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Published: 2009/07/27
by Brian Robbins

Gather, Form & Fly Megafaun

Cosmic American music. Thats what Gram Parsons called the sound he was searching for; and whether he found it in his lifetime is a source for debate. Certainly the Nudie-suited Grievous Angel left a generation or two of musicians in his wake searching for their own version of the same.
Well, I have news.
Cosmic American music lives.
And not only does Megafaun offer us an album full of it with the newly-released Gather, Form & Fly, but they even manage to pay homage and help the soul of long-gone Gram lay its weary head down. (Well get to that in a minute.)
Brothers Brad and Phil Cook along with buddy Joe Westerlund are Megafaun Wisconsinites who now call Durham, NC home. You can try to simply their roles by identifying them as guitarist (Brad), banjo picker (Phil), and drummer (Joe), but dont blink they could be doing completely different things by the time you refocus. Oh and they all can sing their asses off. On Gather, Form & Fly, the trio offers up everything from simple, pretty weary-hobo folk to vocal performances that remind one of a young Crosby, Stills & Nash (in flannel and t-shirts, though no fringed rawhide for these lads) to sonic textures that make you think (but never intimidate) to moments of raw, bluesy raunch all while sounding like themselves.
The soft glide of the instrumental Bella Marie ushers us in to the album, helping us to get comfortable for the eerie experience of Kaufmans Ballad. With maybe the single most shiver-inducing line thats ever been sung over a banjo (An angel soaked in gasoline) and the mood-enhancing cries of guest Jess Fox violin, the bearded boys of Megafaun sing Parsons spirit along its way as the flames reach high into the night sky over Joshua Tree. Feel a little chilly? Stand nearer to the fire next to Phil Kaufman I dare you.
But no sooner does Kaufmans Ballad ghost away than were gathered up in the vocal harmonies and the jangly acoustic guitars of The Fade the subject may be a photo of one long gone, but the music is safe and sound AM pop coming out of the dash of a 66 Valiant. All is well.
Sometimes the sweep of musical emotions takes place within the boundaries of the song: on Impressions of the Past, Beatlesy piano and stern marching rhythms give way to organic chaos before we end up (somehow) in a Phishy sing-along.
If there wasnt such a thing as Americana dub before now, consider Darkest Hour: youll find yourself hitting rewind to find out just when the hand percussion takes over for the dripping water; and when the Megs fade in under the trills of the birds and the sound of a passing storm (or was that a train?) with what sounds like a thousand-year-old hymn, it makes sense. Until the vocal takes a lurch (like someone trying to dial in WWVA on an old Hallicrafters tube radio) and distorts and twists and disappears and the drums fall down the stairs and then everything comes together and the hymn becomes a tankards-in-the-air old rouser of a number. Just like that: in 4:21, youve been round the world and traveled in time, my friend.
And speaking of traveling in time (and just in case you were getting too cozy with the bearded hippie/folky image), Solid Ground drops a Big Pink-era Band into the basement of Keith Richards Nellcote hideout during the Exile on Main Street sessions. (Yeah I know the dates dont line up this is time travel, remember?) Its all there from the overblown, feedbacking blues harp to the almost-stumble-and-fall-into-the-stone-floor rhythm. Nothing has caught on fire by the time the band staggers into the last verse, so they figure, What the hell lets start this one an octave higher we might blow the tops of our heads off, but roll that tape! Amazing.
Then there are the moments like Columns sounding for all the world like something off one of Mike Gordon and Leo Kottkes outings (only with better vocals); all cool jerk jungle rhythms with a banjo and guitar tossing the hacky sack back and forth. Or Guns, where beneath the handsome, soaring harmonies we get a lesson in the perfect cymbal crash. Before the song ends, were swept away in a swirl of sound ending up in the bilges, hearing faint music echoing above and the creak and groan of the planks beneath us. (Never despair Tides makes it all okay in the end: Peace will reside.)
So I ask you: if Gather, Form & Fly isnt Cosmic American music, then what is?
With roots so deep they cant be pried loose no matter how weird the going gets, this is music that feels solid and real. Megafaun is serving the sound luckily they have served it to us.

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