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(Circa Nine 2003 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/3/2003)
Many of my fellow Baby Boomers are fond of saying that they just don't make music like they used to, sounding just like their parents a generation earlier, and retreating as our parents did, into musical nostalgia. This complaint about new versus old music might have some validity if all one heard was the carefully market-researched, mindless pop product served up by the conglomerate commercial media, which has after all a vested interest in mediocrity, lest people start demanding good music. But the perception that worthwhile, intelligent music that a grown-up could listen to is not being made today couldn't be farther from the truth. Here in the early 21st Century, we are living in a golden age of folk-influenced music and singer-songwriters that surpasses in number of artists, and quality of their musicianship and songs, almost anything from the 1960s or Seventies. It's a burgeoning scene of outstanding younger artists most of whom were not even alive back in the Sixties, but who collectively have raised the state of the art to an unprecedented level, all while being scrupulously avoided by Big Commercial Media.
This week we have an outstanding example of a young group, two of whom have just graduated from college, and who have just released their third independent CD, that's downright remarkable in quality. They are a trio who call themselves "We're About 9," and their new recording is called Engine.
We're About 9, the band writes in their CD liner notes, was a facetious reply to the question "How old are you?" And while they coyly refuse to give out that information in the CD, their website reveals that the Maryland-based trio are in their early to mid 20s, with Brian Gundersdorf the old man at age 27. He is a graduate of St. Mary's College in Maryland, with a degree in musical composition. Katie Graybeal graduated this year from Towson University, with a major in public relations, and Pat Klink, age 22, also graduated from Towson with a degree in vocal performance, and experience in classical orchestras and operatic singing. In the band, all are multi-instrumentalists, switching among guitars, bass and other instruments, with Klink providing most of the percussion. With the exception of a cello and some backing vocals on a couple of tracks, the group is self-contained on their CD, making it even more impressive.
Singer-songwriters, as a musical personality, tend to be solitary, but We're About 9 is a trio of individual singer-songwriters, all of whom contribute material, and take turns on lead vocals. They are also outstanding at vocal harmonies, recalling some of the great songwriting groups from Crosby Stills and Nash to the more contemporary Cry Cry Cry. They include one a cappella piece that shows off their collective singing. And in the great folk singer-songwriter tradition, their lyrics are quite literate and poetically vague enough they could be subject to varying interpretation, while still making some cogent observations.
Engine begins with a Brian Gundersdorf composition called Writing Again, piece about revisiting an old relationship through a letter. The piece is an example of the band's fondness for three-four time. It's one of several waltzes on the CD. The track has the appropriate level of musical melancholy, nicely handled by the group. <<>>
Hijo also by Gundersdorf is cryptic song which also seems to have to do with family relationships. The title is Spanish for son, as in male child. It uses an analogy of an old book to consider what may be a possibly strained relationship between father and son. <<>>
Move Like Light is a song written by Katie Graybeal. It's an interesting and wordy piece, which could be about a fugitive trying to evade capture. <<>>
Another highlight of the album is Albany by Gundersdorf, another story about a potential fugitive, a man with a gun apparently in the midst of a stickup. It's interesting how the music in a waltz rhythm tempers the desperate mood of the lyrics. <<>>
David Klink's one composition on the CD is called Another Love Song, a lyrically sad piece also about a broken relationship. <<>>
Katie Graybeal's other piece of writing on the CD is called Slow Sliding Funk. It's well-named, with the melancholy slow-paced mood reminiscent of some of the laid-back psychedelic-era music of Donovan. <<>>
The a cappella track on the CD is the Richard Shindell song Money for Floods. We're About 9's performance, with just their three voices, is very impressive. <<>>
The CD ends with another piece in a three-beat rhythm, actually more like a six-beat jig. Weight of the Ocean is in celebration of a nice day, but not without its complications. <<>>
Engine the new release by the Baltimore-area trio We're About 9, is a thoroughly enjoyable CD that is a stellar refutation of the fallacy that young performers are not making music with the quality or sensibility of the supposedly golden days of 1960 folk. The twenty-something threesome's abilities as songwriters and performers is downright superb. Their material is literate, tasteful and often charmingly wistful, and their musicianship and vocal harmonies are world-class. Though a bit short in playing time, the CD's ten songs span a range of moods, both musically and lyrically, but never disappoint.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an A. Though not quite at super audiophile level, the recording nevertheless does well by the acoustic instruments and vocals, and it has a decent dynamic range, by contemporary standards.
Here in the 21st Century we are currently enjoying what I think is the real golden age of folk-influenced singer-songwriters, with scores of impressive performers who if listened to objectively easily surpass most of the music from the 1960s. Even in this context, with a glut of fine music, We're About 9's new release Engine is a standout.
(c) Copyright 2003 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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