Cavepainters recently released their sophomore album With the Trees, and it is a folk masterpiece. With the Trees’ banjo-heavy instrumentation, sardonic lyrics, and effortless vocal harmonization reaches back in time to bring the sounds of late 20th century folk music to our ears.
Opener “Heart Full of Smoke” is a great example of how Cavepainters creates the perfect folk combination. With magnificent banjo solos galore, honest storytelling lyrics, and brilliant vocal harmonization reminiscent of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, “Heart Full of Smoke” drips with the sound of Appalachian folk. Through their refreshing sound and realistic lyrics, the members of Cavepainters really show themselves as an honest band with an honest sound.
Writ large, With the Trees is an album for the people. “Everybody’s working, always working, all day working” is the opening lyric to “Sweet Relief,” which both pokes fun at and validates the hardworking American experience. The band pairs truthful lyrics with an upbeat sound to speak sardonically about the meathook realities of life in a lighthearted way that almost makes it all feel better. The lyrics here and in the rest of the album cover many ongoing American struggles, while the cheerful instrumentation serves to speak into those realities and say, “It’s all gonna be okay!” Cavepainters does a really wonderful job at pairing lyrics to their instrumentation counterpart.
“Little Brooklyn” is yet another example of Cavepainters’ instrumentation and storytelling lyrics being welded together to create a superb salute to true folk music. “Little Brooklyn” is chock full of anecdotal lyrics that truly make you laugh. It compares Chicago to Brooklyn and includes lovely lyrics like “and if skinny yuppie people walk their skinny yuppie pets, who will know?” The banjo/accordion/acoustic guitar arrangement pairs really well with the whimsical lyrics as it makes you sway (and maybe even dance!) to its lighthearted sound.
Although the album is not all whimsy, With the Trees is an album that truly makes you happy to be alive. So if you need validation that life is tough and oh so wonderful, I’d recommend buying Cavepainters’ With the Trees. And even if you don’t need that pick-me-up, I’d say buy it anyways! With the Trees is out now! –Krisann Janowitz
It’s twice in a row now that Adam Hill has delivered. If another one of his discs winds up on my desk, he’s going to have to work hard to outdo himself again.
When examining Hill’s work, he starts to seem less like a folk musician and more like a folk composer. This album is not the work of a group that took the name of its leader. Hill, in fact, plays every instrument on Them Dirty Roads (except for the fiddle) and provides all the vocals (aside from some of the backups). Hill is in control of every aspect of the album and compiles it into a sort of an operatic Americana symphony.
Whereas his previous album, Four Shades of Green, was more subdued in tone, Them Dirty Roads comes off as restless and in need of wandering. Guitars, pianos, walking bass lines, and an almost total lack of percussion, along with Hill’s twangy vocals (which often come with some echoing reverb) provide an atmosphere akin to the wide open spaces that make up the album’s cover art.
Hill’s sound takes a more indie-minded turn in Them Dirty Roads, especially with the insertion of piano ballads like “Fool’s Gold” and his cover of Dave Carter’s “The River, Where She Sleeps.” The cover is especially wonderful with Hill’s choice to stick with piano and what sounds like wine glasses being played with spoons for the accompaniment to his vocals. The song exudes a sense of joy that will prove infectious to anyone.
In a sense, Hill also takes a turn toward classical music in the arrangement of the album. Similar to the way he put four versions of the song “Down In The Valley” in Four Shades of Green to provide cohesiveness to the album, Hill inserts transitional and framing tracks, “Prelude,” “Intermezzo I,” “Intermezzo II,” and “Coda” in Them Dirty Roads. These tracks are generally just a collection of sound effects, though “Prelude” includes a Bach arrangement played on trumpet over the sound of radio static. While normally I might write tracks like this off as superfluous to an album, when taken within the whole album, these tracks give Them Dirty Roads unity and cohesiveness.
Tracks of note are “Fueled Up,” which is very reminiscent of the later work of Johnny Cash, and the aforementioned “The River, Where She Sleeps,” as well as “State of Grace” and “Ribbons and Curls.”
Anyone who appreciates folk, bluegrass, or country should find something to love about Them Dirty Roads. And those who don’t should definitely give it a try as well.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.