George Graham reviews Ferdinand the Bull's "Painting Over Pictures"
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The Graham Album Review #1965

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The Paper Kites: On the Corner Where You Live
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/5/2018)

Speaking as someone whose musical memory goes back to folk music heyday of the 1960s, I think it’s a cool development that in this age of so much electronic pop, that there seems to be no shortage of emerging folk-rock bands. They obviously put their own 21st Century spin on the music, but there are still strumming acoustic guitars, some mandolins and banjos, and lyrics that usually have something to say, or at least are poetic. A couple of notable groups have achieved some commercial success doing this kind of contemporary folk-rock Mumford and Sons, and the Avett Brothers. In recent months on this series, we have featured new releases by emerging groups Darlingside, Oliver the Crow, the Great Lake Swimmers, and from the UK, the Jellyman’s Daughter. This time we have another worthwhile band who unequivocally describe themselves as a folk group. They are Ferdinand the Bull, and hail from the Pittsburgh area. Their new release is called Painting Over Pictures.

Ferdinand the Bull is basically two guys, singer-songwriter Nick Snyder and multi-instrumentalist, song co-writer and supporting vocalist Bryce Rabideau. The duo began working together as a band in 2013 and released a previous album called Days We Forget. The new recording brings in more production elements such as strings including cello, a gentle horn section, and some backing vocalists. But their music remains quite folky in direction, with the strumming or fingerpicked acoustic guitar at the center of at least the beginnings of many of the dozen tunes. Lyrically, the compositions are mostly variations on love songs that still manage to avoid cliches. The arrangements, even though they can get fairly elaborate, remain tasteful and often sound understated, owing to the prominence of acoustic instruments, including upright bass. But they can also get energetic in sound, showing some influence of the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons on some of the tracks, not that it’s any reason to complain. Ferdinand the Bull put their own spin on it, especially with the distinctive, and sometimes rustic-sounding vocals of Nick Snyder.

The album opens with a piece called New England which establishes the group’s acoustic dominated folk sound... <<>> before building to kind of stomping rhythm Avett Brothers style. <<>>

Another track that epitomizes the group’s sound is called Better Days, which is a bit of self-reflection in an energetic musical context. <<>>

A piece called Crossing Stars is a somewhat melancholy-sounding love song, with a pleasing acoustic setting and the nice use of the string section. <<>>

One of the more interesting songs lyrically bears the title Wooden Fire Escape which, like many of the other pieces on the album, builds to a crescendo after a folky opening section. <<>>

More introspective in sound is a piece called Walls of Fabric which shows the group’s gift for appealing melody with another nice arrangement with the subtle use of the strings. <<>>

On the other hand, the energy level is turned up on a track called Song 131, which has a kind of foot-stomping rhythm but with a multi-faceted arrangement with the strings and horns. <<>>

The album considers the parting of lovers on a couple of its songs. One is called Rockaway apparently about the end of a vacation together. <<>>

The album’s title track, Painting Over Pictures is an instrumental, in which Ferdinand the Bull nicely use their arranging skills with the gathered players with the strings, horns, an added mandolin. <<>>

The album ends with I Can’t Believe It’s Time another song about parting, that is another of the album’s highlights.

Painting Over Pictures the new second release by the Pittsburgh area self-described folk band Ferdinand the Bull, is a nice addition to the growing number of groups on the independent scene who are drawing on folk influence, acoustic guitars and other instrumentation, and literate lyrics. One can hear some of the influence by the popular groups who helped to spawn the current movement, The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons, especially in the way they structure their songs, but Nick Snyder and Bryce Rabideau bring their own original contribution to the genre. Their use of tasteful arrangements of the small string group and the horns is impressive and gives the album a good number of sonic colors. And they create songs that don’t wear thin with time.

Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The sound has good clarity, the vocals are clean and the acoustic instrumentation is well handled. Dynamic range, how well the recording maintains the differences between the quiet passages and the stronger ones, is mediocre. But that’s par for the course these days.

A few years ago, folk-rock seemed like something out of a museum of the 1960s, but a new generation have given the genre new life. Ferdinand the Bull are an excellent example.

(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated December 09, 2018