Starlings, TN

The Leaper's Fork

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Although Wilco eventually had to mute their country roots to make the brand of adventurous rock they felt destined to create, it's interesting to hear a band like Starlings, TN hold just as tightly to the same Appalachian folk and country roots yet use subtle technology to emerge with something similarly distinctive and innovative. Sometimes sounding like Steve Earle being produced by Nigel Godrich, these former punk rockers find a strange mix of spacy ambience and backwoods creakiness throughout the 14-track exercise. With the most traditional of instruments, (mountain dulcimer, mandolin, and jaw harp among them) being dipped in an atmospheric ether, each track drones and murmurs around Steve Stubblefield's hoarse and wavering vocals. Even if these guys seem to sing far too much about alcohol and cheating when the realm of Appalachian folk song revolves more around the axis of God, mother, and death, the eerie and haunted melodies found both in their originals and traditionals prove their sincerity and reverent vigor. Greatly aided by dulcimer virtuoso David Schnaufer, the rest of the bandmembers more than hold their own, displaying impressive instrumental chops in tracks like "Grey Cat on a Tennessee Farm" and "Whiskey Before Breakfast" and employing an absolutely ghostly chorus of voices in a lingering rendition of the traditional "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus." Overall, you're never entirely deceived into thinking that you're hearing a genuine band of backwoods mountaineers, but seeing that the qualities that make their music so distinctive also happen to amplify the qualities that make Appalachian music so moving, the Starlings, TN should be applauded for taking such liberties.