The Low Anthem

Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

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    8
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The Low Anthem cover all their Americana bases with Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, an album that alternates between old-timey country, secular gospel, and harmonized folk. Few bands handle such wide swaths of music with grace, and even fewer manage to steer clear of sepia-toned pastiche in the process. Charlie Darwin is that rare exception, a hybrid of old traditions and contemporary flourishes that sounds at once earthy, ethereal, and uncalculated. Led by frontman Ben Knox Miller, the band resurrects old genres like folk anthropologists, using acoustic instruments (as well as some more esoteric additions, including a refurbished pump organ from the first World War) as their tools of choice. "Charlie Darwin" and "Cage the Songbird" are vocal showcases, padded with three-part harmonies and thick layers of reverb, while a cover of Tom Waits' "Home I'll Never Be" eschews intimacy for ramshackle energy, sounding like a field recording from the late-night hours of a country jamboree. The band makes multiple stops in between those styles, pitching their tent closer to the alt country-rock camp with "Champion Angel" before going to church for the gospel-tinged "Omgcd." Miller steals the spotlight throughout -- he's a falsetto crooner during the opening track, a boot-stomping bluesman on "The Horizon Is a Beltway," a Dylan disciple on the folksier tracks -- but this is still a group effort, with string contributions by Jocie Adams and a flurry of instrumental activity by co-founder Jeffrey Prystowsky. There's a lot of ground covered here, of course, yet the band never loses sight of its destination, and those who can keep up are in for a tuneful trek.

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