The Driftless hits on all cylinders with new album Long for the Dory
Megan Saunders’ talent as a singer/songwriter is formidable. No less formidable is her ability to partner up with other musicians of comparable talent. The latest album from The Driftless is proof positive. Long for the Dory is 11 tracks long and combines iconic folk instruments with an absolutely angelic voice, resulting in some of the sweetes-sounding music anywhere.
First things first: The Driftless are Megan Saunders (vocals, mando, banjo, tenor guitar), Blair Mclaughlin (vocals, violin, guitar), Jeff Kissell (double bass) and Rob Smith (vocals and guitar.) The artful arrangements and exemplary production on this album make the four-piece group sound like there might be one or two extra members in there somewhere (in fact, a couple of tracks do feature an extra hand or two from guest artists). The instruments are full, almost lush, but not so busy that they distract from the vocals, which are the main focus of this contemporary folk album.
It’s hard to pin down the sound of this album except in the most general terms. One moment it is a sweet and loving lullaby(“Morning Glory”), then a sort of sassy, bluesy affair (“Trouble On My Mind”), then it’s damn near gypsy (“Irresistible Smile”), and wraps it all up in a big ol’ country western bow with a tune like “Worn Down Stone.”
Bear in mind, this is the music we’re discussing here. The lyrics owe no allegiance to any genre but themselves (how many Western swing tunes reference “pretty little punk rock boys”?).
That “hard-to-pin-down” sound is a good thing—a great thing really. It means that you aren’t listening to 11 tracks of the same thing over and over again, yet the album as a whole retains more cohesion than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
Basically, the kids in the band have exercised some judicious style, taste and restraint in assembling a collection of songs that demonstrates the range of the group without sounding like a sampler platter.
In any group and on any album there is usually some singular thing that stands out, something that catches your attention above and beyond the rest of the work. That isn’t the case here.
Megan’s voice is just as sweet and pure and gentle as anything and one might be inclined to say, “There, that’s it!”—but then Blair joins in with her and it goes from lovely to sublime. These two ladies could tell me that my house burned down, my car was stolen and my cat eloped and as long as they sang it to me, I’d still have to smile.
For all that, the vocals alone do not “make” this band. The instrumentation is flawless; to single out any one instrument or voice feels like a slight towards every other part. This band has achieved a level of balance between all its elements in a way that is rare in the extreme. Any one of the featured players could be mentioned for their own unique skill and talent, and yet for The Driftless, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The album is Long for the Dory and it is hands-down one of the most beautiful works to come across my desk in a long time.