One of the things I was most impressed with on Wolfcryer’s debut EP The Long Ride Home was the easy maturity that Matt Baumann displayed in his lyricism and melodicism. His follow-up EP Wild Spaces shows that it was no fluke: the quiet assurance of a man in his element is all over the four tunes here.
Baumann plays folk tunes, pure and simple: they’re the sort of songs that could be played a century ago or a century in the future and be pretty recognizable. Those barebones arrangements leave nowhere to hide, but Baumann doesn’t need to cover anything up. His evocative baritone deftly conveys nuanced emotion, and he varies his strum patterns enough to make these four songs quite distinct from each other.
The insistent strum pattern of highlight track “Lonely Country” gives the tune a forward motion that beautifully matches the lyrical theme of interstate travel, while the cascading banjo plucking of “This Revolver” provides a fitting backdrop for the smooth, mournful vocals. After a pretty intro, “Better to Be” takes the focus off the strummed instrument and puts in on the poetic, Dylan-esque lyrics. The title track even includes the squeak of fingers against strings; in such a stark environment, the consistent sound counts as a mood-making element in the tune.
Wild Spaces is another incredible four-song EP from Wolfcryer. Baumann is in a groove right now, turning out raw, passionate folk songs that strike all sorts of nerves. If you’re into evocative vocalists, poetic lyricists, or thoughtful guitar-players (which is to say, if you like any part of singer/songwritering done well), then you’ll be into Wild Spaces. Watch for this project in 2014.
Wolfcryer’s singer/songwriter folk is wildly evocative. Last week I sat down to write a review of his EP The Long Ride Home and instead wrote 1200 words about the meaning of art and social connection in a digital age. (I’m calling that a first draft and using that elsewhere.) I was trying to explain why Wolfcryer’s music so deeply connected with me; instead, I ended up explaining how and why people connect to things at all. At the risk of blowing this essay out to gargantuan proportions a second time, here’s my newest attempt at that prompt.
This year I’ve covered a great deal of highly-arranged folk and maximalist electronic music. The trend for a while was to pare music down to its bare bones, but now having a gazillion sounds per song is back en vogue. Where the sounds go, so must the reviewer. But I was and am a huge proponent of that minimalist movement. You can swoon me with an orchestra, but you get my undying affection with a guitar, a voice, and a lyric. Wolfcryer adheres to that latter vision, and thereby has my love.
Wolfcryer (aka Matt Baumann)’s voice is a well-turned tenor with a just a touch of grit in it; his melodies are both earnest and mappable to a staff in a way that Leonard Cohen’s probably aren’t. He’s got confidence enough that his personality shines through, but without sounding overdone. “Roll Call of Ghosts” leans heavily on his the nuances of his vocal performance (and occasional harmonica) for the payoff of the song, and it is simply astonishing. The hushed “Map of Wyoming” also puts a big emphasis on vocals, with equal success.
It’s not just in his vocals that maturity comes bursting through. The opening chord progression of “For the Sky” is both optimistic and haunting, sticking with me for long after the song is over. He doesn’t let the vocals crush the power of the songwriting; instead, he uses the patterns of the sung vocals to accent the guitar. It’s a beautiful song expertly handled, which doesn’t come around that often. “Never Carry More Than You Can Hold” and the title track also sport a strong fusion of the guitar songwriting and the vocals.
I don’t know how long Baumann has been writing songs–The Long Ride Home is the first release available on Bandcamp–but it sounds like he’s been doing this a long time. The EP shows an astonishing amount of clarity and maturity for a debut release, and it has rocketed Wolfcryer up my list of bands to watch in 2014. If you’re into singer/songwriters like old-school Damien Jurado, Songs:Ohia, Josh Ritter at his quietest, or Gregory Alan Isakov, you’ll be into Wolfcryer. I give my highest recommendation.
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.