In this, my first posting for the esteemed Twangville site, I would like to introduce to my fellow Non-Bay Area dwellers, the San Francisco band Or, The Whale. Yes, the name leaves a bit to be desired, but hey, there is also something to be said for being an enigma wrapped in a riddle and rolled in a bit of irony, Or not….
Being from Texas, where various versions of Country Music often dominate the landscape, I truly enjoy hearing bands from other regions offer their version of Roots-Rock (or Alt-Country or Psychobilly or Cowpunk or whatever…). In the past, there were generally some regional ties that bound many neighboring act’s together sonically. In this day and age of digital music and myspace, influences are shared as prolifically and cavalierly as illegal downloads, thus creating a more consistent formula of Roots-Rock from border to border. The seven members of Or, The Whale come from various musical backgrounds including former members of Bay Area punk bands. Such a variety of perspectives has clearly flavored the selection of songs from their most recent release, Light Poles & Pines. While keeping one foot firmly planted in the up-tempo folk territory of The Avett Brothers (thrash-folk??), Or, The Whale successfully plants the other presumably bare-foot in the fertile, time sweetened honey soaked ground of “Seven Bridges Road” style harmonies. When the voices of A.P. Robins, Matt Sartain, Lindsay Garfield and Julie Ann Thomasson blend together, the sweet and often-times longing sounds are rich enough to rival any “Country-Gold” harmony that the Golden State produced throughout it’s 1970’s glory days. The songs that feature a quicker tempo along with harmonizing during the chorus are the real pearls for me. “Call & Response”, “Fixin’ to Leave”, “Death of Me” and “Threads” are great examples of how the male lead vocal has an appropriately atonal, nasal vibe (not a jab, think Max Stalling or Bruce Robison) and then is bolstered and emboldened by the additional galvanizing force that the female vocal proves to be in these cases. Instrumentally, this disc features a swap-meet’s worth of instrumentation. The Pedal Steel, Accordion, Harmonica and Mandolin all have their turns in the spotlight and shine through excellently. Or, The Whale is able to rock out and yet cultivate an organic feel that is typically reserved for Bluegrass bands that have yet to discover electricity. For now, their touring schedule seems to be limited to the Northwest, and that’s a shame for this Texas guy that would like to see a band that doesn’t have to sing about being from Texas for once.
About the author: I likes me some wine, women and waffles, not always in that order (but usually). Chaucer is cool, but fart jokes are even better. You feel like spikin' your country with a little soul or mix in a little rock without the roll? Lemme hear from ya!!