Coast To Coast – Strangefolk
Coast to Coast, is the first release to showcase the current Strangefolk
line-up. New keyboardist Don Scott lends quite a bit to the sound, taking some
of the soloing duties away from guitarist Jon Trafton. But while this release emphasizes
the group's live jamming prowess, the band's true strength still lies in the
songwriting. The highlight of the album is "Anchor," which, apart from the
country throwaway "Get You Down," is the shortest song on the disc. It is
in "Anchor" where all of Strangefolk's strengths come to the fore. It is a
strong rhythm-based song flavored with melodic guitar, a strong vocal
presence, and a solo section that allows the soloist to stretch but not
extend too far. The song sounds like a mutant hybrid of Marshall Tucker's
"Can't You See" and Level Forty Two's "Something About You," and has the
potential to be a AOR radio station mainstay.
The most obvious influence heard here, made explicit in the "Cocaine"-based
"Come On Down", is Eric Clapton circa the mid-'70. Clapton's live shows
during this time essentially consisted of three and four minute pop songs
expanded into eight and nine minute guitar feasts. At the core of each
Clapton song, and similarly at the core of each Strangefolk track included
here, was a three minute pop song stuffed to the gills with lengthy solos.
Unfortunately, neither the guitarists nor the keyboardist in Strangefolk
have Clapton's chops, and thus the results of each extended solo, and thus
each song, are mixed.
Like Clapton, Strangefolk works best when the rhythm section is laidback and
mellow, and not too aggressive. "Leave A Message", "In Deep", "Come On
Down", and the aforementioned "Anchor" take the laidback approach, and as a
result, are the better tracks on the album. The opening "First Time" fails
to catch my interest, and comes across as a clichpop song with an
unnecessary jam. "Get You Down" sounds like "Big River" until the vocals
come in, and then it sounds like "Too Much Nashville", whose trite lyrics
fail to redeem the song. The closing "Water" introduces a little funk into
the mix, but with not too impressive results (though the last couple minutes
of the jam do contain the most interesting improvisation on the album).
However, all in all, while the musicians all contribute
competent and, at times, inspired performances, but none of the solos
explore any new or particularly surprising territory. At its core, Strangefolk is a solid rock band whose members can play their
instruments and have the ability to write a catchy hit or two.