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The Speed Bumps: Soil to the Seed
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/22/2015)
Last week we featured an album by a neo-folk group from Germany called Mighty Oaks and noted how there seems to be a kind of counter-trend to the synthesizer-generated pop that is dominating the commercial music scene. The result has been a fair number of primarily acoustic bands who go in for more folk-oriented sounds like acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. This week we have another such worthwhile group, this one from Ohio, The Speed Bumps, who have just released their fourth CD Soil to the Seed.
The Speed Bumps are a sextet from the Akron and Kent, Ohio, area. Like an increasing number of contemporary post-alternative acoustic bands, the Speed Bumps counts a cellist in their ranks. The principal songwriter and lead vocalist is Erik Urycki, who has a kind of laid back approach which shows influence of more contemporary groups and not just as the 1960s folkies were doing. The band cites influences from Nick Drake to the Decemberists, from Paul Simon to Radiohead. The Speed Bumps come up with an easy-going record that does not hold a great number of surprises, but they approach their music with a good honesty and make a thoroughly likeable record. Unlike some of the other groups in the style, The Speed Bumps can get electric at times, but they tend to mix in the acoustic instruments like the cello, banjo and mandolin and end up with a nice acoustic/electric hybrid. Also adding a distinctive facet to the group is the presence of two percussionists, with one usually on regukar drums. In addition to composer Urycki’s vocals, there is another singer in the group, Abby Lori, adding some further sonic interest with her harmonies. The CD has three guest players adding various string instruments like banjo, mandolin and some violin.
Urycki plows rather familiar ground in his lyrics, but the subject of love and relationships is a seemingly bottomless well of inspiration for songwriters. So while the lyrical premises are hardly unique, their treatment is intelligent and does take a look at relationships from a number of different perspectives.
Opening is a song called Strikes and Gutters about the ups and downs in a relationship. It illustrates the band’s appealing sound. <<>>
The strings are featured on Just Need Your Love. The lyrical metaphor of love as a drug is hardly new, but the band manages to make a distinctive song that is an interesting mix of the acoustic and the electric, and a more turned-up section. <<>>
A Flower Among the Weeds is a rather contemplative-sounding love song on which the band’s approach is especially effective. <<>>
A classic song topic of a love between people from two different backgrounds, forms the basis of the track In the Moment. He is the disreputable character and she comes from a well-to-do family. The band’s musical treatment with the prominent cello part is first rate. <<>>
One of the more interesting tracks musically is Got You Figured Out. It starts as another contemplative-sounding song <<>> before the band cranks it up to a surprising degree for an ostensibly acoustic group. <<>>
Usually when one has a batch of love songs, there tends to be one with a girl’s name in the title. Rosalene is that song from the Speed Bumps. It’s a nice piece that features the band’s electric-acoustic dichotomy, with the percussion providing the energetic aspect. <<>>
About the rockiest tune on the album is track called Old Habits Don’t Break Easy. It’s an interesting contrast between the electric guitars and the prominent cello. <<>>
The CD ends with Red in the Morning, another piece summing up the Speed Bumps’ ability to mix electric and acoustic aspects of their music. <<>>
Soil to he Seed, the new fourth album by the Ohio-based group The Speed Bumps is another example of the folk-influenced post-alternative scene that has been gaining in numbers. There have been quite a few bands who have been appearing with new recordings in the wake of the commercial success of Mumford & Sons. While the Speed Bumps acknowledge Mumford & Sons and an influence, they have their own distinctive sound, with instead of the rustic-sounding banjo, the Speed Bumps rely on a cello to provide sonic interest, made even more interesting by the presence of two percussionists, who tend to be subtle but can help to take the energy setting up to rock levels at times. The songwriting is worthwhile and though the lyrical subjects have been covered many times before, The Speed Bumps give them some new facets from their combination of Erik Urycki’s appealing, laid-back vocals and the band’s distinctive but welcoming sound.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B-plus. The recording is generally clean and free from annoying studio effects, but there is the almost inevitable volume compression that robs the music of much of its dynamics in the pointless quest for more loudness.
It’s not hard to find new recordings by worthwhile acoustic bands in this second decade of the 21st Century, something that obviously runs counter to the commercial music scene. They are coming in different musical flavors in their mix of electric, acoustic, contemporary and traditional sounding. The Speed Bumps have come up with their own flavor of it, and created some very appealing music.
(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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