A lot can be done with an acoustic strum and a snare shuffle. Old Man’s Beard knows this and puts it to good effect on The River. They specialize in pristinely-recorded folk songs, making the familiar elements of folk and country into bright, shiny parts of pop songs.
This is not a bad thing; the instruments sound gorgeous, the vocals are beautiful, and the snare shuffle has never sounded more elegant. Purists will complain that Old Man’s Beard has more in common with Guster than Alan Lomax, and that’s true. But I don’t see that as something to complain about. There are plenty of Woody Guthrie wannabes, and not enough songs that sound like “Empty Pockets” (the purists will debate this point too, but I don’t care).
Most of these songs ease about at a stately pace, giving the listener time to enjoy the immaculate recording. Some of them move slowly because there are deep reggae influences (“Dawson Bound,” “Tofino”). The former even has the signature drumbeat and strum pattern as reggae. Still, the note-perfect production of the song ties it in with the rest in feel.
The River is an absolutely gorgeous record. There is nothing out of place and no mistakes: nothing but pristine sound. The songs are memorable, fun and interesting. And seriously, the production is amazing. I love The River. Highly recommended for fans of acoustic pop or a wide interpretation of the word “folk.”