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I was delightfully reminded of my mislead youth the other day when a friend was nice enough to pass along the Drunken Barn Dance album by Drunken Barn Dance. The latest recording venture of one Scott Sellwood, formerly of the Detroit Soul-centric outfit Saturday Looks Good to Me and occasional sideman for David Dondero (himself originally a member of the brilliantly-named folkpunk group This Bike is a Pipe Bomb), Drunken Barn Dance is nothing short of an exercise in audio camouflage.
Upon dialing up the Drunken Barn Dance website, the track "A Winter's Tale" rings out like a carbon duplicate of an unheard John Darnielle track. To say that the song, which has been released as a limited edition vinyl single, sounds a lot like the Mountain Goats is an understatement. The resemblance of Sellwood's voice to that of Darnielle's is beyond uncanny; having removed the track tags from an mp3 version of the song, four out of four people I floated it to identified "A Winter's Tale" as "obviously" being of Mountain Goats parentage. Perhaps out of some form of Darnielle withdrawal (they'd all given a lukewarm response to last year's Heretic Pride), all four test subjects excitedly found the track to be "delightful," "great," "brilliant." Degrilliant.
The tracks on Drunken Barn Dance's eponymous album, however, are more varied in tone and texture. There is still a strong thread of Darnielleian sensibility throughout the album (see "Instantly Devout"), though its not so overstated as to be homed-in on straight away. Indeed, it is an abstraction more like the Californified inflections of the Lassie Foundation that come wheezing through the speakers on "(Opportunity)," the sleepy but sun-dappled minute-long acoustic opener that sets off Drunken Barn Dance. The ensuing, highly parenthetical "Seagulls (No Fantasies) (Fading Tones)" then rattles out of the box as a distillation of the literate Americana spirits Sellwood most embodies; if we insist on tying it to names in the lo-fi indie folk cannon (and we obviously do), Drunken Barn Dance should be strapped to the early recordings of Darnielle's Mountain Goats (a more melodic, fleshier "Twin Human Highway Flares" perhaps) or unelectrified Neutral Milk Hotel ("Ain't No Weather Fouler" even sounds like it might be about Appalachian incest).
To be sure, Drunken Barn Dance walks a fairly worn path through the forest of singer-songwriter fare. Thankfully, however, though there's no real wilderness encountered, there are enough day hikes into the trees on either side to keep Sellwood's songs from being relegated to strictly coffee-shop fare. There is enough of Woodie Guthrie's fuck-all spunk spread atop American Analog Set's white bread dream pop in "3rd Wheel's The Charm" to keep an edge, yet there's a strong taste of Sam Beam's sweetly droning whisper in "Oil Tower Forest (Measure Me!)" to keep the Earl Grey drinkers tuned in. As the album closes with "The Last Desperate Stand Of The Last Fair Man," it isn't a stretch to imagine a more flat-voiced Jay Farrar singing over the tight-wire acoustic guitar of Oso's Phil Taylor. If it seems like all the comparisons are disingenuous or lazy, that is understandable. But in truth it is more of an appreciation; if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then an uncanny emotional connection to memory of such proportions has to be pure ecstatic reverie. For all of the names one could check in describing Drunken Barn Dance, there are some more off-pattern numbers, like the optimistic instrumental "Beer Buzz," which should quell any misgivings about the Ann Arborist's validity as a lead songwriter.
No matter how pandering they may seem, early descriptions of "stinging fuzz-folk," and all of the inevitable comparisons, can do Sellwood no disservice. With a voice that shape-shifts at every turn, Drunken Barn Dance's fantastic ability to sound so similar to so many established and revered musicians will likely be a blessing and a curse only for as long as it takes for Sellwood's material to make its own way into our subconscious, which it is sure to do in fairly short order. SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/drunkendance
SEE ALSO: www.quitescientific.com
SEE ALSO: www.leroystrecords.com
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.
See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.
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