This debut album Cold Open by Meadowlark Valley is a showcase of the work of J.J. Schrick who recorded all the vocals, as well as playing each of the instruments. The overall theme of the collection is a deeply rooted folk rock feel with an easy style that ties directly to nature as well as the use of metaphors to mirror day-to-day relationships. There is an undeniable similarity to Fleet Foxes in the vocals, guitars and just about everything else that people will notice.
While the musical styling is pretty easy to identify as being very folk based, Schrick also uses some pretty innovative arrangements to make this album his own. “Bottom of the Hill” was unexpected and playful with a different type of percussion sound that made it much more playful than many of the other songs on the album.
Other tunes from the album like “Without a Sound” rely heavily on the guitar to complement a raw vocal that just exudes so many emotions you can't help but listen. This song in particular would lend nicely to an acoustical live performance like the likes of a classic Brandy Carlile tune. There was something very effortless and raw about the way the guitar and vocals combined.
“Beneath the Tree” continued the almost effortless feel of the album with a simple mix of heartfelt lyrics and a soothing guitar arrangement that was just enough to support the vocals without over powering them. The vocals of this song in particular almost stand alone. “The Driftless I: Mountaintop” is another song that plays easily with a passion that is almost haunting and a guitar focus that again would lend nicely to a live performance. The first two minutes of the six-minute song have an almost lullaby quality with a nice surprise as the tempo picks up with more of a guitar focus for a change of pace. I enjoyed the unique arrangement.
Overall the rawness of the vocals was by far my favorite part of the album; it seemed effortless at times but also very connected to just a natural flow of emotions and vocals. I also enjoyed the unique musical arrangements that seemed unexpected but just fit with the theme. Like both nature and relationships, sometimes the unexpected things are the most memorable.
The use of the familiar metaphors of nature and the outdoors made this collection timeless and current at the same time. I can almost picture singing some of these songs at a sleep away camp around a campfire for years to come. I look forward to the upcoming release in December and more from this artist.
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