For a roots band founded out of Norfolk, The Vagaband are unapologetically drenched in Nashvillian modus operandi. Debuting with Town & Country in 2012, the octet comprised of José McGill, Greg Cook, Joe Wright, Patrick Arbuthnot, Dan Reynolds, Tristan Roche, Ali Houillebecq, and Hugh Stanners became an instant collective to watch for their unique fusion of Americana stylizations and dense barrage of instrumental eminence. Now, the band have returned to the studio for a second time with their guitars, drums, violins, banjos, mandolins, upright basses, dobros, clarinets, dulcitones, saxophones (and more!) for their sophomoric release, Medicine for the Soul, and their latest genre-bending LP acts as yet another solid addition to their increasingly innovative catalog.
For as instrument-heavy as The Vagaband are with their overarching sound, the first thing that any listener worth their stock would notice upon first overall listen of Medicine for the Soul is that, thanks to top-notch production, the cooperative never sounds cluttered. From the 1920s cabaret invoking of a brass line on “A Town With No Name” to the downhome swamp stomp bluegrass-meets-modern age electronics of “Black Sheep”, the album is astonishingly well-crafted, providing a crisp sound throughout that, with the proper headphones or speaker system, come trumpeting out in fully equalized glory. By that sentiment alone, The Vagaband have achieved something special with the production of Medicine for the Soul that not many big label bands could say for themselves, and as far as huge Americana bands go, they’re already forgoing the Mumfords, the Avetts, and the Old Crows and crafting an equally as indelible, but unique, soundscape to inhabit.
In many ways, The Vagaband edges out as the more interesting band out of any of the aforementioned, innovating within their genre by means of expansion. They’re not a band who’s afraid to explore their sound and fix something that ain’t broke in ways that no other eight people in the world could have developed. McGill leads the band with an assured vocal that never needs to be pushed to its boundaries to weave a pertinent story. There’s a certain ineradicable way that he and the band’s fellow members sing together that conveys an individualistic heart and soul. Combined with the adventurous tone set in place by the lush and cohesive instrumentation and arrangements present on the album, Medicine for the Soul is one potion that’s guzzled down easily.
The band comes full circle with its Americana influences in the titular “Medicine for the Soul”, dedicated to the legendary Tennessean singer-songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. Featuring a luxuriant amalgamation of horns, organ, piano, flute, violin, electric guitar, and more, the song ultimately declares Van Zandt to the nominal “medicine” which the LP is centered around. Featuring a spoken word opening from the man himself, sampled from Heartworn Highways, the track is a true masterpiece and innovator of Americana influences that deserves to be heard. Other tracks worthy of note from Medicine for the Soul include but are not limited to the breakneck “Gabrielle”, low-key rocker “Cisco Wine”, and the uplifting and appropriately-titled alt. country opener, “Lifted”.
When it comes down to it, The Vagaband prove once again that their space within the ever-expanding world of western music is warranted time and time over to an almost incessant degree. Medicine for the Soul is nothing short of a brilliant entry into their growing catalog, and a fine addition to the Americana scene at large. True artists by all manner and means, The Vagaband manage the impossible funambulist’s act of staying in one place while never staying in one place at all.
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