The Trolleyvox are a musical anachronism, creating chiming, guitar-based folk pop with female vocals that seem of another time entirely. It’s different from what you’re likely to hear now, and is overall a fresh sound that is at times quiet and contemplative, and always engaging. Imagine a U.S. version of the Lilac Time fronted by a warm intelligent female voice (that of Beth Filla, who seems to be all that and more).
Leap of Folly is a perfect collection for extended listening, a solid and lengthy soundtrack for lazing through a winter afternoon lost in your own thoughts and emotions. While vocalist Filla was off in grad school pursuing her master’s degree, songwriter Andrew Chalfen mastered some impressive new songs that are showcased here. Chalfen, formerly of the Wishniaks and Joey Sweeney, is the main creative force behind the music, writing the songs, playing guitar, bass, piano, and whatever it takes to get his ideas across.
He is joined at various times by Greg Dubrow (of the Idle Wilds) on bass, and drum duties are split between Ken Buono (Flight of Mavis, Buzz Zeemer, Dragstrip Courage) and Bret Tobias (Moped, the Bigger Lovers).
While Chalfen is the man behind the music, the most distinctive aspect about the Trolleyvox is Beth Filla’s expressive vocals. Recruited though a “vocalist wanted” ad in a local Philadelphia paper in 1996, she auditioned and won the spot in what started out first as an acoustic duo, then built slowly into a full gigging band.
Now confidently leading the way, Filla’s interpretive vocals turn Chalfen’s songs into magical journeys, whether floating expectantly above the guitars or casually relating the stories contained within the lyrics. In the same way that Natalie Merchant did early in her career, Filla is able to achieve a lot with a little. Her vocalizations are never overly showy; they match every song’s specific requirements. She’s the universal voice of that ever-appealing smart woman, and when she sings, you listen.
There’s a lot here: 14 songs in all that distinguish themselves over time (at first listen, several of the songs may sound similar, but repeated listens will prove otherwise). It’s hard to pick a single favorite here, as there are many moods and flavors to choose from. From the pretty guitar intro notes on the first track, “Dome of the Sky”, to the more acoustically folk-like somber feel of the closer, “Hours and Miles”, this is quite the musical collection.
“Oregon Lanes” vies strongly for single consideration, an upbeat examination of bowling and the happier side of modern relationships: “The many happy returns / The ache of regret, the plan abandoned / When I think no one connects / You prove me wrong over and over / Near as we can be to not quite / Every little thing is alright”.
“Town and Country” focuses on the tiny details that may hold meaning in our lives, the changes wrought by age (“All the stuff I own is breaking down”) and the familiar “leap of folly” of focusing on nostalgia and dreams of relationships that never were.
Easily the most infectious melody here (sounding like something simple and Cajun) is that of “Le Fleur de Lys”. The lyrics cleverly explore one whose supernova has burned out long ago and the ensuing aftermath: “Ah, you used to tread so cool / Back then no one could touch you / Light years out of school / Now you’re down on yourself and walking on eggshells / Your velveteen braveheart will fill up your dance card / With lessons in how to be lonely / You’re mending defenses with anti-depressants / You’ve got yourself a Maginot Line”.
“Green Light Cascade” is a slow-building epic that achieves grandeur in its eloquent discussion of dalliance, obsession and love. More intriguing delving into aspects of love are to be found in “But That Don’t Make It Right”. Chalfen has an admirably witty and indirect way of touching upon deep matters and emotions in lyrics. Yet his music is also strong. Give a listen or three to “Chesterman”, his masterful instrumental number here and I bet you’ll have it inside your head long after.
Produced by Adam Lasus (Madder Rose, Versus, Clem Snide), there’s a clean, simple acoustic feel to the music. “Singing Telegram” is a beautiful piece of folk-rock, musically as dreamy as the lyrics that ponder, “dreaming of a new day to come”.
Ken Buono does a nice job with the stutter syncopations of “Goodnight Heat Lightning”, while Bret Tobias does equally well with the drums in “One Day”. “Outerbourough Getaway” addresses those who manage to escape the city for the summer, even temporarily, and features Chalfen sharing harmony vocals with Filla. “Air Companion”, one of the later tracks on the album, is also a favorite. Again, here is the questioner of love, patiently asking questions while impatiently reaching conclusions about that elusive state: “Walking around on endorphins / The sweet reverie of my old friends / And then they go, and then you go / Back to the drag / Are you in love? / Well how do you know that? / Are you in love with a trick of the light?”.
Almost three years in the making (without any record label or touring pressures), Chalfen, Filla, and friends have created a quality recording that manages to be both relaxed and focused all at once. Leap of Folly is a lovely throwback that also manages to sound original and new, a special reflective musical treat that sneaks up on you and quietly wins your heart.
// Notes from the Road
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