Twang Darkly,
The Sound of Secret Names
(independent, 2012)

Before I played this CD, I wasn't sure what sort of sounds might emerge from it. Twang Darkly is a trio driven by lead musician Michael Futreal, a native North Carolinian who now lives in Louisiana. His group's talents are described in various ways on its website and in its promotional material. The short version is that it offers "cinematic Appalachian roots rock." A second introduction says its members use "traditional instruments to distill original music from raw ingredients of Southern American culture ranging from Appalachia to the Delta." Yet another claim is that its tunes are "fetched from the future on a beer-fueled time machine fabricated from gourds and guitar strings." Gee, I guess that covers just about everything.

The 13 tracks offer a variety of instrumental explorations. A handful ("Perry's Theme," "One for Seven," "From Morrow Mountain" and "The Pigstone Shuffle") resemble background ramblings without the benefit of being topped off with noticeable melodies. Maybe this is how Twang Darkly is "cinematic." There's nothing wrong with this. It merely surfaces as a surprise, when one's ears wait for the "real" song to start, and then eventually realize that what one is hearing, is simply what there is.

"From Flatlands Starlings Rise" features a melody line on harmonica. The three-quarter time doesn't conjure up the vision of starlings for me, since they often travel in groups and trill to one another a lot. But this is a decent selection. "Her Secret Name" begins with slight reminiscence of something Native American, in its minor key and with its measured flute melody. Then in the second half of the song, Futreal breaks into the higher octaves, turning the woodwind's range into a borderline Jethro Tull performance. It's an interesting switch.

"Currituck Sound," whose title refers to a coastal area in northeastern North Carolina, has a reggae feel, based on a dulcimer melody. "Pastime with Good Company" also features the dulcimer. This tune is like a march of bagpipers, without the drone. It's also the shortest selection on the disc, and I liked it so much, I wanted more of it. "Tom on the G-Train" is a good harmonica-based shuffle. Twang Darkly can rock, and its electric guitar work on "Hogstone" is a good example of this.

While "Her Secret Name" just hints at native culture, "Spirit Defenders of Nikwasi" goes the whole way, with Kutreal exploring the haunting nuances of the traditional wooden flute. Nikwasi was a Cherokee village located along the Little Tennessee River. This is a nice nod to the site. "Desert Red" features a hard and raspy guitar line that marks a slow rock jam.

The album concludes with "The Beautiful Years Roll," a quieter piece that has an infectious lead guitar melody. It is not only the last cut, but also the longest. And since it's basically the same four lines repeated over and over ... again and again ... listeners are apt to have this tune stuck in their heads for a good, long while -- well after the CD player has been shut off. That might not be a bad thing.

A younger friend tells me that Twang Darkly's kind of noodling could be categorized as "contemporary progressive." I'll accept that definition. With my own inclination toward classic rock, I equate the term "progressive" with songs by Rush, Yes and Jethro Tull. But I can appreciate the fact that this is a different sort of musical interpretation.

The Sound of Secret Names comes down to variety. The album offers a smattering of different musical styles that evoke different human emotions. The appearance of the harmonica and the dulcimer are especially satisfying sounds here. Michael Futreal is an obvious lover of music, instruments and auditory explorations. He is lucky enough to have found two other musicians to help him further his work.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Corinne H. Smith

7 July 2012

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