Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pawns or Kings' Pomme De Terre on CD

Pawn or Kings are a folk rock band from the Ozarks, which is a rather genuine place to be from if you're going to make music like this. If you read all of the press about POK, however, you'll see endless comparisons to Mumford & Sons, which made me put off the writing of this review. I'm not the biggest fan of POK's more famous British brethren; it occurs to me they're a band that has become less genuine as the years and the record sales go on. A cursory listen to POK's new album, Pomme de Terre, certainly reveals the same affinity for Irish roots rock mixed with Americana, along with a banjo that's presented up front and personal just like a lead singer. I had a feeling, in other words, that I had heard this all before.

It's a good thing I gave Pomme de Terre a second chance in my main system, where I discovered a quartet of musicians much more willing to take chances and stray from that somewhat limiting musical genre. POK achieves this by manipulating the pace of their album, juxtaposing the knee-slapping Irish tunes with moody, atypical instrumentals ("The First Rain," subtitled an interlude) to a mid-tempo rambling epic ("Black Clouds") that brushes up against The Fleet Foxes once or twice with its forlorn 3-part harmonies and an attitude that flirts with the medieval.

Despite these adventurous mini-excursions, Pomme de Terre doesn't drop you off at the bus stop halfway through while the band members stretch out and improvise. The instrumental breaks are a welcome feature up until the end of this varied and confident album, the band's second after their 2011 debut Letters to Lucy, until this quartet lands into an introspective yet invigorating cover of an actual Fleet Foxes' tune, "He Doesn't Know Why." Any musician who can cover the Foxes and not make you run for the original deserves a nice slap on the back and a pint. By the way, the song is misspelled on the back cover as "He Doensn't Know Why"--I'm not sure if this is intentional or if it will be corrected later and my copy will be worth tons of money one day.

I actually loved the way this album loosened up as it went, finding different pathways to explore along the way. It's as if Pomme de Terre is an all-night party that starts off raucous until a few cocktails are consumed and a few hearts are broken. And the sound quality is quite nice once you get past the rather thinly-balanced opener "Names and Maps." I have a new, BIG pair of speakers in the system and the bass guitar in this album had a warm yet dynamic sound that drives each song.

For more information on Pawns or Kings, check out their Bandcamp website.

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