Although it appears to be a New York City-based project and was recorded in a studio in nearby Orange County, New York, the latest album from Adeline Hotel has a distinctly leafy, West Coast feel. The knotty folk arrangements and soft-spoken vocals of songwriter/bandleader Dan Knishkowy somehow evoke winding Laurel Canyon roads, a retro-style sense of musical camaraderie, low-key, casual guitar strums and the gentle thrum of percussion.
All of this seems to point toward descriptions of jam bands, and it should be noted that Solid Love is not in any way that kind of album. Not directly, anyway. If you take the more structured, folk-oriented songs of, say, the Grateful Dead – with a hint of Nick Drake, Jim O’Rourke, and Jeff Tweedy at his most Zen – you’re in the general neighborhood of this lovely, intimate album.
While Knishkowy sings, plays acoustic guitar, and writes all the songs on Solid Love, the band almost seem like a partial collective of Whatever’s Clever, the label formed by Ben Seretan. Joining Knishkowy is a core band of Seretan on electric guitar, Winston Cook-Wilson (of Office Culture) on keyboards, Andrew Stocker on bass, and Sean Mullins on drums and Mellotron. Other participants include Dave Lackner on saxophone and flute, Kristen Drymala (of the instrumental folk duo Quarterly) on cello, and Brigid Mae Power, Matt Kivel, and the late Devra Freelander on vocals. Lackner and Freelander both appeared on Seretan’s latest solo album, Youth Pastoral. It’s an eclectic bunch, and when they join forces in the studio, the sound is intoxicating and disarmingly focused.
The title track is a smooth entry into the album, with gentle electric and acoustic guitar picking sidling up to Knishkowy’s crooning as other instruments gradually make their way into the mix. Harmony vocals, piano, bass, drums, and Seretan’s secret-weapon guitar leads veering back and forth between keening, pedal steel-like sustained notes and meandering leads that sound like Jerry Garcia sitting in with Fleet Foxes. The addition of Lackner’s sax and flute playing seems like an unusual choice. Still, it fits in perfectly, giving the impression of the sort of pastoral soul/folk hybrid that Van Morrison used to crank out pretty regularly in the early ’70s.
While Knishkowy’s effortless vocals and low-key compositions are a vital part of the equation, the whole album comes off as a genuine collaborative effort. Songs like this can often sound best with simple acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment, but having a full band in the mix is the right choice. It prevents the songs from coming off as overly earnest and sounds more like a late-night recording session overflowing with warmth as the musicians continuously play off each other. “Strange Sometimes”, for instance, chugs away along a gentle beat aided by percussion and handclaps, with Lackner’s sax gliding along the groove in a way that’s both unexpected and comforting.
Solid Love is an album marked with hushed subtleties too often lacking in indie-folk (if that’s what we’re calling this – sure, why not), but there’s also plenty of moments that count on more traditional arrangements. The loping, mid-tempo “Trace” is a fairly standard slice of muted alt-country crossed with some AM radio hooks and harmonies. It sounds like a close cousin of “Power Zone” from Seretan’s latest album. But that’s followed up by the sparse, almost sinister “Ordinary Things”, a song adorned only with acoustic guitar, aching electric guitar accents, and some understated Mellotron. It comes off like Josh Ritter at his darkest, which speaks for both the sophistication of the arrangements and the high quality of Knishkowy’s songwriting pen.
Solid Love closes with “Takes a Long Time”, another song that benefits from bold-yet-understated arrangements. Harmonies, piano, distorted guitar and a soft swell of horns are all added to the mix before the song concludes with a distant recording of vocals and acoustic guitar, perhaps a snippet of an earlier demo version of the track. Solid Love is an album that would have been perfectly acceptable with a simpler musical arrangement. Fortunately, Knishkowy knows a lot of exceptionally talented musicians who helped him transform the album into something far greater and worthy of many repeated listens. Dim the lights and put on your headphones.