I know I've heard Strawberry Heritage before. Not in regards to the music John Hanson himself makes (he's joined by a bunch of others on this release but he's the brainchild), but in regards to the sound. I've heard it in Japancakes, early Iron & Wine and even some of Michael Yonkers' folk stuff, and yet I can't get enough of it. This is starry-night folk music to be listened to either by yourself or with a lover around your arm but never anyone else. Its arrangements are strong enough to break a heart and soothing enough to mend it. A lot of people designate Americana as primarily acoustic folk music that just happens to be made in America, and for the most part they're right. How many times have we held up criteria asking for more stripped-down, more authentic folk music to keep the genre alive? Well, The New Rise is authentic but it is anything but stripped down. This is some of the most endearing, artfully composed folk music I've heard all year. Soft and beautiful, with a lyrical toughness that reveals itself in every song. Except the ones that don't have vocals.
After the completely unnecessary opener "Dream Hard,” the album begins in earnest. It has rustic guitar-plunking sounds, lazily-felt but not lazily-done strumming that signals the maternal calls of suppertime, the babbling brook voice of Hanson himself, sometimes the cello and vibraphone. The deep woods sound of The New Rise inspires feelings of calm and peace, and, dude, there's even a sitar on "The Living Elder.” Oboes, clarinets and dulcimers also make themselves heard. If you are still saying no to this at this point there is just no helping you.
The best song is "Red Rock.” It's the most delicately arranged and also the most evocative. Hanson sings, "1929/the boom of a copper mines/money fell from the underground,” against a defensive guitar and banjo before an alleviating violin balances an equation that, in Hanson's mind, was never solved. you'll need maybe three songs to figure out if you like this album or not. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the best folk albums to come out of the states this year, and from Michigan of all places.
*I know it's borderline reprehensible to market a musician in the same write-up that markets another, but people really need to listen to more of Michael Yonkers so he'll get the hint that maybe he SHOULD rerelease all his recordings.
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