Saturday, August 28, 2010
Come On In Album Review
You might say that, in effect if not in intention, Yarn reimagines New York City as a kind of rural village. Not that nobody's ever done that before, of course. The city has hosted folk revivalists since the 1930s, not to mention bluegrass and honkytonk bands, though where its rooted products are concerned only the folk singers -- among Yarn's most immediately recognizable antecedents -- ever have had much of a national impact.
With Come On In, its third album (albeit the first I've heard), Yarn shows itself to be worthy of a far-flung following. At the very least, it's worthy of repeated listening, to which it stands up -- always the test of a good record.
Possibly, with some adjustments, Yarn could be something like an innovative bluegrass band, but it's all right as it is, which is not yet another iteration of the wimpy, smooth-harmony California "country-rock" ensemble. Yarn's sound has an edge, both attitudinal and electrical, that conjures up fond memories of Steve Earle's brilliant early records. Certainly, the band's songwriter (also acoustic guitarist) Blake Christiana has Earle's gift: a crisp, twangy vocal style and a precise, no-nonsense way with words. I'd add, however, that his melodies are more consistently engaging than Earle's.
Less than a minute into the opening cut, "Alone on the Weekend" -- a title that in lesser hands could forecast something awful -- I had confidence, not destined to be disappointed, that I was heading into time happily spent. Christiana may be a romantic, but he's also a realist who seeks to negotiate the world with clear eyes, unclouded by self-pity or sentimentality. All 13 songs are firmly constructed and tuneful, and some -- "New York City Found," "These Bars Don't Look Too Friendly," "Abilene," "Time Burns On" -- stick happily inside your head as you go about your lifely business. The terrific "Strikes & Gutters" could be among the stellar cuts on John Prine's blue-collar-poet masterpiece Diamonds in the Rough (1972) but for the (literal) electricity.
Backing Christiana are some impressive pickers (Trevor MacArthur, Roderick Hohl, Andrew Hendryx, Rick Bugel) and a smart, sensitive drummer (Jay Frederick), with occasional assistance from fiddler Jeremy Garrett, saxophonist Jeremy Wall and pedal-steel player Skip Krevens. If other musicians have attempted what Yarn is doing, few have done it so well.