The Last Bison recently played The Mint in Los Angeles (March 30 with Kris Orlowski). Rachel gives her review of the group’s album Inheritance.
[By Rachel McFarland, Photo by Matt Eich]
The use of the term “folk” as a genre usually signifies the idea of music steeped in tradition, culture, and poetic lyrics sung gently against a backdrop of acoustic instrumentation. The Last Bison’s debut album, Inheritance, stays true to these tenets, but it also manages to turn them up a notch through a forceful musicality. While similar in this nature to current folk rock bands like Mumford & Sons, The Last Bison have managed to further wring out traditions and tones to make their own unique sound. There are Mumford similarities in the tracks on Inheritance, but there are key differences that allow The Last Bison to stand out in this currently saturated genre. Hailing from southeastern Virginia and cultivating their sound against the backdrop of Virginia farmland and country, it is the sense of place their music gives off that sets them apart from other current bands.
The Last Bison draw on their lives, surroundings, and upbringings to inject their songs with a natural, raw, Americana feel. Lead singer Ben Hardesty formed The Last Bison by banding together an ensemble that includes his father and sister, along with home schooling and church friends, who combined to create music that transports to another era. The Last Bison, a strong force of seven people, honed their music on their farms, in churches, around bonfires and at get-togethers at house parties- which are exactly the types of places you want to be when you listen to this album. Throughout each track, the basics of folk traditions are present with their acoustics, poetic lyrics and singing with a purpose; but this is all intertwined with layers of intense, strong instrumentation, and passionate vocals making for a highly emotive output.
This passion is what differentiates The Last Bison from more mainstream folk bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and The Decemberists. While The Last Bison’s songs utilize many of the same techniques as these bands (heavy drum beats, forceful and unified choral singing), they also infuse a demand to be heard with varied layers of instruments -including strings, percussion, fiddles and guitars.
The album starts with the instrumental “Inheritance” with an Appalachia sound opening up like an Aaron Copeland piece, setting the tone for the album. Each track offers something different, allowing them to avoid any monotony throughout. A track like “Quill” introduces a country-bluegrass feeling, with some carnival-style melodies at the end to add a touch of folky quirkiness. “Switzerland” is a key standout, illustrating their varied musicality with the use of fiddles, bells, strings, and drums. Songs like “Distance” and “Watches and Chains” create an ardent fervor of sound, all of which support the vehement vocals of Ben Hardesty. Throughout the album Ben’s vocals take center stage – his singing is done with a zeal and conviction that compliments the strong musicality of the instruments. While there are points on the album that are robust and loud, that’s not to say they’ve abandoned the softer side of folk. Tracks like “River Rhine” and “Sandstone” are gorgeous sways of songs that highlight the band’s ability to slow down- but not without sacrificing the passion that marks the entire album.
It’s a passion that they’ve clearly cultivated from the land they grew up on, with a sound that seems of a different era. Combining their regional character with a timeless aura is what sets The Last Bison apart. While there is occasional gentleness, the primary emphasis behind the album’s sound is forceful, unapologetic, and steeped in ancient traditions. Ben’s vocals sit on top of all of these forces, resulting in a soaring album that will demand your attention. ~
Check www.TheLastBison.com for tour dates.