This Dublin-based folk band plays American-style folk music but sounds better when they stretch outside the traditional American folk style.
I Draw Slow is a Dublin-based quintet that specializes in American-style folk music with a few Irish touches. For most of Turn Your Face to the Sun, the only indications that the band doesn’t hale from Tennessee or North Carolina are lead singer Louise Holden’s slight Irish accent and fiddler Adrian Hart’s playing style, which is noticeably influenced by traditional Irish folk music.
When I Draw Slow sticks to simple folk songs, those songs end up pleasant but pedestrian. “My Portion” is a slow-rolling ballad with some nice harmonies courtesy of Louise and her brother, guitarist Dave Holden. Aside from a good fiddle solo, the lush chorus is the song’s highlight, which isn’t enough to really make it memorable. Songs like “Same Old Dress Will Do”, “Don’t Wake the Children”, and “Tell the Girls” all follow similar templates, to similarly forgettable results. Louise’s vocals are always strong, but the lack of catchy melodies and interesting arrangements make it difficult for her to carry the tracks all by herself. “Don’t Wake the Children” could be romantic if it wasn’t so familiar musically, while “Tell the Girls” lopes along with a bit of energy but at five minutes long it eventually ends up dragging.
It’s when the band stretches themselves a bit stylistically that their songs come to life. Opener “Maria” has tension and darkness and is a full vocal duet from the Holdens. The lyrics tend to end phrases on Spanish words, and there is a subtle mariachi-style trumpet accompaniment, which gives the song real personality. “Apocalypso” is essentially a country folk dance, not a calypso, but it has a strong lyrical conceit. “I’m gonna love you no matter what disaster happens” with a side of “We may as well commit suicide together because it’s only gonna get worse if we stay” is a striking premise. It’s a point of view the song commits to fully and that makes it memorable. “Alvaregna” works because it has a genuine story to tell, about a pair of losers who set out on the ocean only to be caught in a horrible storm and stranded in a lifeboat. Good banjo work from Colin Derham and some intentionally cheesy barnyard fiddle from Hart keep the song lively even as the story gets darker.
The album’s highlight comes with its penultimate song, “Twin Sisters”, apparently a traditional Irish song. It’s the one song on the album where the band embraces the Irish folk tradition, and the amount of energy they put into the song is noticeably higher than anything else on the record. Hart’s fiddle gets to be the lead instrument for the first half of the song, which is great since he seems to be the band’s standout musician. Eventually, Louise comes in with a bold, loud vocal that lets her Irish accent come through much more audibly. Listening to “Twin Sisters” made me wish the band pushed the tempo beyond “sedate” a lot more often.
The good songs on Turn Your Face to the Sun are enough to make it worth a recommendation. But one gets the sense that I Draw Slow could be better if they steered away from the standard folk template more often. Still, “Carolina”, the most blatantly pandering American-style folk song on the album, is a rock solid track. The song is full of references to towns in North Carolina and Tennessee, but it’s effective because the vocal melody is so strong. Maybe the key for the band is not putting the entire burden of carrying the song on Louise’s shoulders, but working hard to find interesting melodies and better instrumental arrangements.