Americana's band of brothers expand their sonic horizons in Water Walker.
When Americana outlet Folk Family Revival first hit the scene with the release of their debut album Unfolding, in 2011, it was abundantly clear that the Lankford brothers Mason, Barrett and Lincoln, and Caleb Pace, were onto something. A literal family aiming to revive the 1960s era of folk, blues and rock and roll proved to craft a solid first-time effort, leading them to open for bands like the nationally acclaimed Southern rock ensemble Blackberry Smoke over the past three years since. However, most artists lie within a precarious stereotype of reaching a sophomore slump with the delivery of their second album, ultimately failing to reach the potential that their debut release would have shone a shimmering hope of.
Does Folk Family Revival fit snugly into that realm, doomed to fall into the land of desperate throwback gimmicks before fading totally into obscurity? Luckily, the answer to that is a resounding “no”. The band returned to the studio with a few new tricks up their sleeves, introducing the world to an album that is both fresh and nostalgic yet again without feeling like they’d all been there and done that.
The opening track “If It Don’t Kill You” is a blues-seared jam with appropriately Messianic themes, given the context of Water Walker's name: “If it don’t kill you, it ain’t the father / If it don’t heal you, it ain’t the son / If it don’t fill you, it ain’t the holy spirit / And if it don’t kill you… it ain’t love.” The band takes the composition by the horns, delivering one of their swampiest performances to date whilst making a compelling case to keep listening through the remainder of the LP.
Like in Unfolding, the band of brothers choose to not remain within just one facet of Americana and roots music, instead opting to play with a variety of sounds ranging from blues, to rock, to country, to folk, and back to blues again. “Sunshine” spins a traditional country melody into a slow-grooving alternative ensemble, accentuated by a muted guitar solo, ethereal female backing vocals and a slew of instrumental cadences that, together, make for an atmospheric affair. “I Drew a Line” plays like an electrified Byrds track, whereas tracks like the rollicking “Everyone Loves Someone” and the emotional album staple “Marfa” draw upon Folk Family Revival’s clear Bob Dylan influence.
Meanwhile, “Darlin’” is unlike anything the band put out in their previous effort. It propels them forward further down the line of psychedelic blues -- a moody innovative twist on a time-lasting genre that works wonders. The ensemble gets together on the closing track “I Found God” to deliver a ruminating number that’s like a conglomeration of all of their sound influences. You have a riff that’s drenched neck-deep in the aforementioned blues that culminates into a full-on countrified rock-and-roll solo, with lyrics worthy of something beyond The Basement Tapes.
Water Walker proves to be a prominent addition to Folk Family Revival’s growing portfolio of steady contributions to the Americana scene. Without any outstanding low points on the album, it stands as one of the strongest roots releases of the year so far. They have managed to successfully expand their sound and escape a sophomore slump, though the real test will be with album #3.