Much has happened to Elephant Revival in the three years between its previous full-length release, These Changing Skies, and its latest, Petals. Perhaps most notoriously among the events that have paved the way for the band since 2013 has been the departure of founding member Sage Cook as he pursues opportunities outside of Elephant Revival. Unfortunate as a founder’s departure typically is, the band—still consisting of Bonnie Paine, Dango Rose, Daniel Rodriguez, and Bridget Law—has shown that the ties of communal strength which had first bonded its members as a harmonious musical outlet have only grown tighter amongst the remaining members. On top of this, they’ve enlisted a new face in surname-sharing Charlie Rose to fill out what ends Cook left open in his own individualistic way, bringing along multi-instrumentalist credits on pedal steel, banjo, cello, trumpet, and trombone alongside his vocals.
As always, Paine and Rodriguez cover the lead female and male vocals on the record. Paine’s soft vocal tone wraps itself around lyrics with a warm sense of musicality, wherein Rodriguez’s earthier, more straight-shooting folk vocals offer a nice dichotomy between them. Both remain capable of offering competent renditions of evocative stories, and each has only grown to fill out his or her shoes as lead vocalists and multi-instrumentalists since the band first sunk its roots into musical soil with its self-titled release in 2008. What fully melds their sound whole on Petals is the presence of Law and the Roses, all of whom have concocted such a musical flexibility within the band (alongside Paine and Rodriguez) that their identities have not only been re-established following Cook’s departure, but established as something stronger than what they had left behind.
The band has always been capable of delivering a compelling song amongst a self-sustaining societal ecosystem that they have seemed to develop within their ranks, but as with anything as effective as a major contributor to an ongoing musical project dropping his or her presence altogether, it relies on whose left behind to either create something compelling and new to soothe any worries, or fall into a shadow of mediocrity with a false recreation of what once was. Luckily, the musical know-how was there to point the quintet in the right direction, and the end result is, ultimately, another ethereal, vibrant album put out by Elephant Revival, but with a newfound sense of confidence amongst a few new instruments at play, which offer long-time listeners a breath of fresh air.
Most prominent on Petals from that instrumental standpoint is, perhaps as always, the scintillatingly multi-faceted fiddling of Bridget Law, but everyone holds their own in some interesting way or another. Of what’s new, Charlie Rose’s pedal steel, such as when it is heard on “Season Song”, offers a tinge of traditional country to proceedings, and the band as a whole tends to experiment further with its sounds. Things take a turn for the baroque on “Furthest Shore”, and opener “Hell You Who” comes across a sensual burner that fuses pieces of jazz and Celtic-based influences. Elephant Revival contains some of the most promising players in their field, and considering all that has changed for them, Petals marks an especially firm step in the right direction towards gaining popularity.