Frontier Ruckus

The Orion Songbook

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The Orion Songbook is about as good a debut as a band can hope for, and Frontier Ruckus will soon find themselves a national act if they continue making music as intricate and captivating as the collection they've assembled here. The album is chock-full of 14 consistently strong songs that mix elements of rock, bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and jazz, all as a musical landscape for singer/songwriter Matthew Milia's hypnotic and somewhat cryptically assembled lyrics. Milia's lyrics roll like rich literature and are just as visually descriptive. In the song "What You Are," he sings: "Our grandfather was a soldier/Now I am older, I know what homes are for/Worried homes have walls/They absorb old phone calls/They spit warm laundry smoke to the cold backyards." While Milia drives the songs vocally, banjo-plucking David Winston Jones and jack-of-all-trades Zachary Nichols form the musical backbone. Nichols plays horns, the singing saw, and even the melodica -- a toy-like mouth piano made popular in the 1970s by reggae artist Augustus Pablo. The music is distinctively twangy, but remarkably full. "Dark Autumn Hour" and "Bethlehem" sound like lost Neil Young gems from the Harvest era, while the lovely "The Back-Lot World," which features the ghostly wail of the singing saw, sounds like it would fit right at home on Beck's melancholy Sea Change album. "Rosemont," perhaps the album's centerpiece, is one of the only songs on the album that features an actual chorus and offers Detroit imagery such as "air is hissing at our feet," a reference to the steam that rises from Detroit's sewers. The song is named for the street that Milia's mother once lived on in Detroit, and backup singer Anna Burch offers wonderful harmony vocals that make the song the most tuneful the album has to offer. All in all, this is a fantastically rewarding album that only grows stronger with frequent listens, which is the real test after all, isn't it?

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