The Underpainting creates modest, honest folk-rock songs that have a certain understated power.
Brian Michael Roff is from New England, and his music carries the haunted remnants of the history and elemental cold of Massachusetts’ Western countryside. The Underpainting, his new project, presents its self-titled debut as a limited edition of just 150 through Catbird Records, or in wider release through Boston label Tower of Song; either way it’s worth investing in if you’re at all interested in folk music. These modest songs’ honesty goes back to a more straightforward brand of folk-rock than we’re generally offered in the independent scene today, where things seem forever tarted up with electronic effects. When Roff sings “try to shake the phony accent” on “On What It Means to Disconnect”, he may as well be addressing the entirety of the freak-folk movement. Roff’s own delivery is nasal and reedy, reminiscent of Jeff Magnum, and has a rough-hewn beauty; but the focus is really on the lyrics, which have a down-to-earth poetry about them whether they’re discussing big ideas or small descriptions. Roff opens “Underpainting” with the words, “Hey there Bobby Kennedy, I wrote this song for you / And it’s about Bob Dylan…”; the song goes on to spin compelling images of loneliness and dissonance over static piano chords and haunting singing saw. Sure, it’s no In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but The Underpainting’s simple, organic songs are compelling in their own right.