Folk trio The Tillers, one of the more popular and respected original groups in Greater Cincinnati, will release their new album (the band’s fifth overall) this Friday at Newport’s Southgate House Revival, in the venue’s Sanctuary performance space. Old-timey Nashville, Tenn., unit Woody Pines and North Carolina folklorist/union activist Saro Lynch-Thomason open the show at 9 p.m.
The Tillers’ Hand on the Plow stands to reach the wider audience it deserves thanks to its release through Muddy Roots Records, the label branch of the organization that puts on Tennessee’s popular Muddy Roots Music Festival (and other events) every year.
For those just discovering The Tillers, Hand on the Plow is a great place to start, a culmination of the musicians’ experience and maturity since their 2008 debut, Ludlow Street Rag. From the start, it was clear that the musicians already had great chops to build upon. With Hand on the Plow, The Tillers prove those chops aren’t just instrumental — the songwriting and arrangements are the best of the group’s career so far.
The Tillers use the same tools as Folk’s pioneers — banjo, stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, fiddle, harmonica, accordion, spoons — and essentially work within fairly standard Folk structures. But a lot of people do that. What makes The Tillers special is their ability to turn that simplicity into something magic. And Hand on the Plow is loaded with magic moments.
The natural, unfussy production (courtesy of Brian Olive and Mark Van Patten) makes Plow even more enjoyable, allowing the listener to hear every percolated banjo riff and plucked bass note. Not that there are many Americana acts that lay on the studio bells and whistles, but The Tillers’ energy jumps from the speakers as a result of the pureness of the recording. The writing and that energy keep the band, despite playing in a definitively “antique” style, from ever sounding overly “old fashioned.”
There’s not a dud amongst Hand on the Plow’s 11 tracks.
The album opens strong with the jaunty “Old Westside,” one of the more percussive songs in the Tillers’ oeuvre, with its stomp-’n-spoons breakdowns. Tracks like sweet “The Road Neverending” and the lonesome “500 Miles” have a great melodic presence, which, coupled with the members’ harmonies, brings to mind the brotherly, telepathic chemistry of classic Jayhawks.
Other highlights include “I Gotta Move,” one of Plow’s darkest yet more exhilarating moments, with its slow, death-rattle swing and needle-pushing, organic distortion (plus a great, down and dirty guest harmonica spot by Col. J.D. Wilkes of The Legendary Shack Shakers and The Dirt Daubers) and the raw, hard-charging jam “Treehouse,” which has an almost Punkish spirit.
The Tillers’ seemingly innate understanding of the ins and outs of vintage Americana comes through powerfully on Hand on the Plow, yet somehow it’s also the group’s most distinct record to date. How can they be “purist” yet still progressive? It’s gotta be magic. (the-tillers.com)
Animal Circles’ Special Blend
In the late ’70s, Punk Rock and New Wave were blossoming in New York City. But those genre tags were just a convenient labeling device, a catch-all that didn’t take into consideration all of the varied influences artists were bringing with them under that umbrella of Punk or New Wave. Bands would drag things like Rockabilly or Disco into their audio realm and craft their own new sound out of it, with barely any fans blinking an eye, let alone screaming, “That’s not Punk!”
Cincinnati trio Animal Circles bring that sort of kitchen-sink approach into their compositions, craftily blending together Surf Rock, Punk, Roots/Folk/Country sounds, Rockabilly and other styles into their own distinctive sonic smoothie. With the access people have to every type of music these days, it’s a wonder why every band doesn’t have Animal Circles’ sense of eclectic wonderment.
The band celebrates the release of its debut album, Eva Lee, Saturday at the Northside Tavern. The free show also features Bloomington, Ind., rockers Thee Open Sex and local Black Sabbath tribute, Druid Piss.
Animal Circles’ variety and sense of dynamics make Eva Lee thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. From the full-throttle burner “Brooks and Then Done,” with its speeding-out-of-control-train shuffle and rumbling Surf guitar licks (a consistent on the record) to the anxious, Jack-White-goes-to-the-beach vibe of “Squid Attack” to the vintage Country-flavored rocker “Southern Bell,” the band keeps your interest, not just with its unique ingredients, but also its strong sense of songwriting and melody.
The “Surfin’ Space Cowboy” approach has the potential to get old fast, so it’s to AC’s great credit that Eva Lee is such a consistently compelling listen. This is no novelty act. (facebook.com/Animalcircles)