Not the Same Old Folk | Bleader

Not the Same Old Folk


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Black Prairie
  • Black Prairie
I've never been able to stomach the Decemberists, and now that I've heard the recent Black Prairie album Feast of the Hunters' Moon (Sugar Hill), I know the blame rests with Colin Meloy. Three of the five members of his band are also in Black Prairie, a Portland string quintet (plus accordion) that plays progressive bluegrass with comfortable excursions into eastern European folk, moody post-indie-rock balladry, old-timey music, and even tango nuevo and fado. Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, who wanted to spend more time playing Dobro, started Black Prairie with Decemberists bassist Nate Query.

Most of the group's material is instrumental, and though they definitely have the chops for it they avoid showing off, preferring to use their skills in service of ensemble-oriented, multipart compositions (most of which are original). Violinist Annalisa Tornfelt has a gorgeous, dusky voice, though, and after hearing her sing on the band's thoroughly contemporary-sounding take on the traditional "Red Rocking Chair" (which you can check out below) and the smoldering blues "Crooked Little Heart," I'd say Black Prairie should think about letting her do it more often. Feast of the Hunters' Moon was beautifully produced by Portland genius Tucker Martine, who excels at bridging folk, rock, jazz, and various other acoustic-oriented musics. Black Prairie headlines Schubas on Thursday night.

"Red Rocking Chair":

Pieta Brown
  • Pieta Brown
Saying that Pieta Brown, like Black Prairie, plays "folk music" doesn't help much, I realize—folk is such a huge and varied category, after all. On her latest album, One and All (Red House), she returns from the ultrasparse instrumentation of last year's Don Was-produced EP Shimmer to the band-driven sound she's used for most of her career, but most of the songs definitely feel dialed down. Several impressive guests lend instrumental support, including Joey Burns of Calexico on accordion and cello and Brian Wilkie of Chicago's Hoyle Brothers on pedal steel, but guitarist and coproducer Bo Ramsey, Brown's longtime musical partner, does the heavy lifting. There is a rhythm section (bassist Jon Penner and percussionists JT Bates and Steve Hayes), but they have such a light touch they barely register as present. As it should, the focus stays on Brown's raw and sultry voice.

She shapes her songs with the same sort of slow-burn intensity you get from Lucinda Williams but otherwise doesn't sound anything like her. Her voice is like a liquid—she often does without precise articulation or disregards bar lines, simply letting it flow wherever and however it needs to. Even though some of the new tunes feel a bit listless and the melodies don't always stick with me, I don't care so long as Brown's voice is washing over me. Below you can check out "Faller" from One and All. Brown opens for the Carolina Chocolate Drops on Friday night at the Park West.


Black Prairie photo: Jason Quigley

Today's playlist:

Lene Grenager, John Hegre, Harald Fetveit, and Else Olsen S, Ute (AIM Sound City)
João Bosco, O Bêbado e a Equilibrista (Sony/BMG)
Various artists, Good God! Born Again Funk (Numero Group)
Julian Argüelles Trio, Ground Rush (Clean Feed)
Oh No, Dr. No's Ethiopium (Disruption)


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