Folk Family Revival
Rock Ridge Music 2015
by Andrew C Schlett
It is very refreshing, to say nothing of unusual, to hear a new CD by a young band
that is honest, non-pretentious, lyrically insightful, and musically seamless all at once.
From the first track to the last Waterwalker plays like one really long song with many
different movements and a few interspersed breaks; the style of the Magnolia, Texas based
Folk Family Revival remains constant and steady throughout, but there is so very
much packed into the music that one cannot help but be awed at the wide variety of
influence to be heard within. Under the umbrella of what must ultimately be considered
country – Texas-Americana-Psychedelic country for sure, but country nonetheless – they
have managed to incorporate the sounds of Seattle grunge, Delta blues, old-time 70’s
Outlaw country, revival-tent Gospel, Kentucky bluegrass, and straight-up rock-n-roll all
the way through the album. It is, in truth, a little more country-leaning than my usual
preferences, but still, this is a hard disc to get tired of listening to. It stayed in my truck
deck for two solid weeks and is still heavy in my road tunes rotation.
Waterwalker really is that good. This 12-song offering is the second full-length
album by this band of three brothers and a couple of their friends. The band’s first album,
Unfolding, was met with some critical acclaim but was largely successful due to the hard
work of FFR itself; constantly playing, constantly promoting, working gigs ranging all
the way from the Crawfish Festival in Spring, TX, to an appearance at Willie Nelson’s
Family Picnic in front of thousands. They have done state-wide and out-of-state radio
tours and are currently being sponsored by Southern Star Brewery, their band picture
even appearing on cans of Southern Star’s rather tasty Bombshell Blonde. These are
exciting times for Folk Family Revival, and Waterwalker is the perfect sophomore effort
to conduct them to the next level of fame and fortune.
The disc begins with “If It Don’t Kill You” which is arguably the most radiofriendly
and commercial song to be found here. Catchy in melody, catchy in lyric, it is an
easy song to sing along to which likely explains why they chose to lead off the CD with
it. This is not a bad thing, just my own prediction that if we ever hear any of these songs
on the radio, it will be this one, and it will likely be huge.
From there we step to the more melodically acoustic “Sunshine”, where we find
the first real foreshadowing of the brilliance of singer/songwriter/guitarist Mason
Lankford’s genuinely talented soul. Mason is a young man, as are his two brothers
Lincoln (drums) and Barrett (bass), but they three write and play with a maturity well
beyond their years. Guitarist Caleb Pace lends some trippy electric undertones to the
brother’s sound to help flesh it out and give it a sort of psychedelic texture that few other
bands even strive for, keyboardist Blake Bentley brings the harmonics, and the pedal steel
and Dobro playing of Will Van Horn add the twang that demarks it as Texas bred.
“I Drew A Line” is the third track and has emerged as one of my personal
favorites. Relying heavily on a very chugging electric guitar country riff reminiscent of
Waylon Jennings in his prime, the song finally breaks into weird little measures of what
is essentially air music, a little unrelated snippet of light, soothing sound, then right back
to the chugging. All the while the lyrics to this track are some of the most innovative on
the record – and given the lyrical accomplishment on this album as a whole that is saying
quite a bit – providing the listener not only pleasant rhyming structure but food for
intellectual thought and personal self-analysis. This is a lot to take from one simple song,
I know, but we have all drawn our personal lines and then crossed them, so there. I might
also speculate that given the overall ‘Tejas desperado’ tone of this cut, it would fit easily
on the soundtrack of any movie Quentin Tarentino has ever made or will ever make.
This leads rather abruptly to the acoustically-active “Dream” (which soon breaks
into one of FFR’s heavier electric-grunge offerings) and is only one more of the many
songs of note on Waterwalker. In fact there is not one song on this entire CD that can be
easily dismissed. “Drunk Again” also stands out as a personal favorite, again combining
Mason Lankford’s superb lyricism with music that can only be described as compelling,
maybe even hypnotic. The overall impact of Lincoln’s usually off-timed drumming and
Barrett’s heavy bass is immeasurable to the final product. “Darlin” features Caleb Pace
on the banjo sounding very much like the legendary Grandpa Jones straight out of the
Grand Ole Opry. “Trash” might just be the best song on the disc. “Marfa”, “Everyone
Loves Everyone”, “I Found God” and especially the pleasantly odd “Cotton Dress” are
all just as great any of the songs I touched on above; this whole album simply rules.
Key to the success of Folk Family Revival has to be the close family connection
that the Lankford brothers share, they have obviously been playing together since they
were young children and their top-flight musicianship for players in their twenties only
stands as proof of that. Combining this with the high talent levels of the nimble-fingered
Pace, the twang of Van Horn, the keys of Bentley, and the additional electric guitar input
of Matt Frodo Kidd along with a veritable slate of background singers, the result cannot
be anything less than sonically spectacular. Not to be ignored either is the fantastic postproduction
done on this release. Much care and attention to detail went into the final
mastering of this effort and that is apparent in the listening. Even the physical CD case is
a tri-fold cardboard thing complete with a painting of some serious artistic merit on the
front, full band credits and liner notes, with all song lyrics printed out even though there’s
no spacing so they’re hard to read. It is an attractive package for a band which is pretty
attractive in itself. Not to say that these boys are pretty – far from it I’m sure – but the
music they make is very pretty and damned remarkable as well, very catchy, highly
intricate and wholly enjoyable from the first notes until the very last.
Purists of country, of blues, of gospel, purists of grunge might not like this record,
simply because they are purists. But then again they might. What does this music sound
like, ultimately? It sounds like Texas, but on a couple hits of peyote and an ice-cold beer.
There are many ways to find Folk Family Revival and score your own copy of Waterwalker. Visit any of the links posted just above, search for their videos on YouTube, they have a page on Bandcamp, and various other online locations. Of course, the best way to get in touch with FFR is always to see them play live. This reviewer recommends that you do!
BECAUSE THE MUSIC MATTERS!!!