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Schooner
Hold On Too Tight

Fifty Four Forty Or Fight Records
www.schoonermusic.com


The folk rock/indie pop quintet Schooner shows downy arrangements reflective of Super Furry Animals and weeping plaintives that can be classed with Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter and John Vanderslice. The band's recent album Hold On Too Tight from 54º40' Or Fight Records encapsulates a variety of textures from classic '50s blues rock hews to bluegrass/zydeco/Creole gusts and alternative country folk gossamers.

Produced by Zeno Gill (Des Ark, The Rosebuds, Portastatic), the album displays Reid Johnson's languid vocal streaks and guitar accoutrements along with his sister, Kathryn Johnson's breezy backup vocals and keyboard primps. Joining the brother-sister team are drummer Billy Alphin, bassist Tripp Cox, and backup singer and cellist Megan Culton. The band also incorporates extra ornamentation from Thomas Moorefield on pedal steel, Scott Phillips on accordion, Luke Berchowitz on mandolin, Billy Sugarfix on the theremin, Mark Lebetkin on viola, Dave Bjorkback on glockenspiel and The Pox Family Singers lending background vocals. The overall mood of the album is downbeat and glum with a few shots of perky beats and romantically sculpted vocals. The band's classic blues rock traits and soft pop treads recall of '70s folk rockers Bread and modern alternative folk acts like The Beta Band and The Magnetic Fields.

The album opens with vocal harmonies on the track "Proem" which leads into alternative country folk gossamers for "Carrboro" flexing a likeness to the rhythmic timing of Sweden's Shout Out Louds. Consequently, "Pray For You To Die" continues the lo-fi profusion with a classic '50s blues rock mistiness reminiscent of The Everly Brothers. There is a star-gaze feel to Reid's vocals that pave a hollow reverberation through the soft folk-pop shires of "There's Enough To Do." The rock rhythms and guitar effects plump up the prologue of "Tears In Your Ears" and then deflate through the soft flumes along the canals in the verses. Keyboards dot the drum fills delicately before everything plumps back up along the chorus parts. The songs drag with a thoughtful repose like tunes you listen to while sitting on your porch watching the world go by.

The alternative country folk chords on "Leaving Your Room" have a downbeat cast and musings in class with Des Ark similar to the country blues modulations on "Married", carting percussions and vocals that stroll pensively. The band includes two short pieces of music - "James Street" and "Alston Avenue" that shroud the sounds of the street with a host of doleful keyboards. The soft pop psychedelics of "Ominous Bird" are sensually fluted while the peppy beats of "They Always Do" and "I Would Tell You That I'm Stuck" have an alternative folk caramelizing liken to Sparklehorse. The languid plaintive of "Hospital Floor" contrasts the speedy bluegrass/zydeco/Creole rhythms of "Strange Alibis" which has the speed of grind metal with country hues.

The album concludes with the ballad "Ladybug" featuring the romantic vocal lulls of Reid meditating along a battalion of country folk grazes. Reid reflects in the lyrics, "I saw you late one night/ My head was full, my legs were light/ I wished with all my might/ I wished our veins could give us flight/ And take us above a ladybug in flight."

The downbeat cast of the album has a meditative grazing. The music's dragging in reposing and mindful and the moments of peppiness create a lively vibe that is catchy and likeable. The band, who calls Chapel Hill, North Carolina home, has instilled country hues in their folk rock and soft pop melodies. The music has a homespun mulch and a domesticated effervescence. It's music with a heartland coddling and a universal touch that's all their own.

-Susan Frances


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