A while back, I did a piece on Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, considering them a criminally overlooked band. It seems that they have landed a spot on the 2012 Newport Folk Festival so congratulations to the hardest working and gnarliest country rock band in New England.
One of the myriad musicians who shared the stage with Joe to celebrate the release of 2010’s White Lighter was Keith McCurdy, a young folk musician whose own band, Vudu Sister, has a new record. The startlingly good Bastard Children is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, due in no small part to the stellar local talent that helped create it (but more on that later).
As a live entity, Vudu Sister is essentially just Mr. McCurdy solo, occasionally joined by some friends, but definitely more a quiet, humble affair than the often raucous and bombastic Bastard Children. The album’s wide breadth of sound and style draws comparisons to pastoral Nuggets-era psychedelia, as on the wonderful “Galliard,” a lovely echo of the British invasion via The Animals or The Hollies. “Dead Man’s Pockets” is a slow, swampy crawl through dark and bluesy White Stripes territory. The album’s opener, “Psalms,” conjures up some serious Appalachian death-folk, whose martial war-cry tempo sets the tone both musically and lyrically for much of the record, making it an incredible opening salvo to what becomes a fascinatingly diverse set of songs.
Throughout the record, McCurdy moves seamlessly between the stark solo balladry of “Wicked King,” (closely resembling the one-man show you’d most likely get to see live) to the full-throttle, full-band rendering of “One Of a Kind,” for which he borrows Joe and his Wrong Reasons for a totally scorching country blues number. “One of a Kind” leaves me hoping McCurdy can someday assemble a similarly ass kicking backup band of his own, as his voice is big enough to need one.
One of the really great things about the rootsy, folky rock scene in Providence is the camaraderie many of the artists have with one another, often helping each other fill out their live bands. Much in the same way that the Wrong Reasons’ White Lighter benefited from myriad Rhode Island musicians, so too does Bastard Children feel fully engaging and robust, thanks to the talent that helped to create it. Most notable may be Michael Samos, an amazing pedal steel player with the band Tallahassee who here adds the dobro to the beautifully whimsical forest-folk of “Daughter of the Woods,” while giving “Dead Man’s Pocket” its sleazy New Orleans grind. Singer Kate Jones brings an ethereal ambiance to “Daughter of the Woods” as wellas “Galliard,” and “The Quiet Man” is rounded out by the delightful vocals of Lily Costner and Caroline Hecht of Tig & Bean. Also, there’s enough mandolin, banjo, violin and fiddle to keep things interesting, and even the oddball track, “Underground,” probably the most unassumingly interesting track of the bunch, sounds great as played by the power trio of McCurdy, Sean Kennedy on guitar and Alexander Garzone on drums.
On the whole, Vudu Sister’s Bastard Children is a solid debut, effectively utilizing some the best musicians in Providence while still sounding like the solid and focused work of a very talented artist just beginning what is hopefully a nice long voyage.