It is fair to say that at The RR our knowledge, awareness, and subsequently appetite for folk music is on the side of limited compared to other flavours of temptation. Even so a regular courting of folk punk offerings leads to moments more established in the traditional breeding of the genre which have from time to time sparked our pleasure and attention, the debut album from River Drivers now one such occasion.
Big Oak Road offers up ten songs which grab ears and imagination alike with their stories; tracks bearing tales of people and suffering so often borne from the affluence and powerful which prosper from and cause their struggles and hardship. They are accounts wrapped in sounds which proved just as captivating, Celtic, Americana, and Appalachian influences sparking the Philadelphia band’s own individual ideation and passion within a record which works and tempts on many levels and one which only nurtured the want to know more about band, folk music, and the background to the chronicles of life and history within it.
River Drivers is the creation of Kevin McCloskey (vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass) and Mindy Murray (vocals, guitar, banjo, bass) with Marian Moran (tin whistle, low whistle, concertina, melodica) and Meagan Ratini (fiddle, Irish flute, tin whistle) completing the quartet. We mentioned the flavours embraced in the band’s sound but equally there is a rawness in sound and emotion which has a punk breeding, no doubt a hue feeding on the years McCloskey was part of hardcore punk band Wrong Answer. It all adds up to a richly alluring persuasion within Big Oak Road and its mix of original and more obscure folk songs, and immediately within opener Children’s March (Mother Jones). It is a track which carries an infectious swing from its first breath, melodies coaxing swift engagement as McCloskey’s earthier tones draw the drama of the true U.S. Irish history plucked story inciting the imagination of song and listener alike.
It is a great rousing start to the release quickly matched in strength and captivation by the similarly lively and catchy Going Once. It too is a song inspired by a true story, that of a mother‘s plight finding a new home for her nine kids after their Torresdale farm is sold at auction for back taxes. The woman was Murray’s grandmother and brought to life magnetically by the vocalist’s emotive tones before a just as thick emotional intensity lines the voice of McCloskey within Crooked Jack, a cover of a song written by Irish singer songwriter/novelist/playwright Dominic Behan. As in its predecessors, the strings of the band’s instruments cradle and cast tempting shadows thick with warmth and melancholy; a craft heavy combination almost as romantic as it is dramatic and provocative and just as potent within the following Sí, Se Puede, another song drawing a picture of the hardship and exploitation of hard working men.
Isn’t It Grand Boys (Look at the Coffin) revels in its Irish breeding next, a Pogue-esque croon shaping its take on The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem classic. It is one of those songs which instinctively gets under the skin, a temptation relishing the enterprise of Moran’s whistle embracing breath, as too proves the album’s title track which is next up. This time the fiddle of Ratini primarily flirts with ears as it dances with the spirit and the other equally enthused textures making up the highly enjoyable song.
Through the great thick drama in sound and word of Cumann na mBan, the track proving another major favourite within the album, and the poetic rendition of traditional song, Moonshiner, greater attention was easily sparked by the band while the Tim Stafford written Union Man simply epitomised the strength of the release to pleasure, spark participation, and inspire an appetite to explore the origins of its story.
Big Oak Road concludes with Farewell Johnny Miner, just one more captivating slice of historically and intimately inspired folk written by Ed Pickford and invigorated by River Drivers, the band embracing its British heart.
The music world is so vast and rich that it is impossible to explore every plateau within its glorious landscape but we have definitely missed out not venturing into folk deeper and more often but grateful for having the rather excellent River Drivers and their similarly thrilling Big Oak Road as a new incitement.
Big Oak Road is released October 18th with pre-ordering available @
Pete RingMaster 03/10/2019
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