There’s a new vein becoming apparent in the folk music heard these days. A fine blending of traditional styles and instruments with solid components of modern rock has been demanding attention in a louder voice.
The sound, deemed part ‘americana/american roots’, and part ‘roots rock’ music by most of the artists who live and perform it, is fresh, but comfortable. Like stonewashed jeans. It contains a familiarity reminiscent of Springsteen, but new and exciting.
Some folk artists we’ve reviewed here recently lean more toward the music styles of old country and bluegrass – like Northern Lights and Don Campbell. Or blues, like Sugar Ray and Seth Yavacone. The John Cate Band has succeeded in fusing traditional folk instruments (mandolin, lap steel, harmonica, tambourine) with modern electric guitars and drums, while pulling style from what I term the first renaissance of folk music – the sound of the 60’s.
Now, I’m not referring to the British Invasion, which influenced the style of so many of the bands that followed. There is a clear split in music history where ‘rock’ headed one way and those committed to preserving the art of passing along ‘real life’ stories through their songs took another branch. This is the path taken by Mitchell, Baez, Guthrie and other artists that sprouted from the folk style created by this generation of musicians during the years of flower power.
More contemporary artists in this vein include J. C. Mellencamp, Martin Simpson, Kate Wolf and many, many more wonderful storytellers. It is in this spirit that John Cate and company spill their hearts into their music. A skillful and soulful blending of elements from all generations of american roots music.
John Cate calls his music ‘roots rock’ and it fits him like a well-worn slipper. John is an exceptional songwriter and singer – hints of vintage folk in the tradition of the 60’s icons, reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger at times, while at other times seeming more engulfed in John Mellencamp’s world. He would easily fit into the Guthrie family too.
The Band’s newest offering, V, is an excellent representation of their folk rock influenced style, presented with the maturity and professionalism of a well-oiled machine. They know who they are and what they are about, and it’s plain they’re enjoying every minute of it all. As you may guess, it’s the fifth disc in the Band’s line – and even after a number of plays, it remains fresh and new – I continue to hear tidbits not noticed before.
V kicks right in with a repertoire of solid rockers like ‘Let You Run’ and ‘Television’ to get your blood flowing, peppered occasionally by mellow rollers to let you breathe and center. That blending of traditional instruments I referred to earlier? Check out the infusions of tambourine in ‘Without You,’ mandolin on ‘I Will Be Ready,’ or the harmonica in the Jaggeresque ‘Outsider’ and the sweet journey ballad, ‘Longer Way.’ My favorite tracks? ‘Longer Way’ and the beautiful, soft Guthrie-styled acoustic,’May the Road Rise to Meet You.’
Give this disc a spin or two and you’ll see what I mean. Or listen to any of the Band’s previous releases. There is a complete discography of the American Music Partners releases available through the mothwing.com link on the Band’s web site, www.johncate.com, along with links to MP3 and Real Audio song samples, booking info, show schedules, reviews, and CD ordering information. Together, they create a magical, musical adventure any roots rocker will love.
The John Cate Band may be releasing disc V now, but they are by no means finished – if the selection of track order is an indication (and I hope it is). V drifts off echoing the final line of’Longer Way’ – ‘and each and every road holds promises, but I’ve got a longer way to go (oh, yeah)’.
– Devin Travers