Homespun: Strawfoot

Chasing Locusts (self-released)

The seven members of Strawfoot immerse themselves in old-timey music with the same spirit that makes Civil War re-enactors don wool uniforms and fire antiquated muskets at each other: They seem so caught up in the fantasy that it's useless to question their intentions. To buy into Strawfoot is to put aside any conceptions of authenticity — it's best to realize that all music is artifice and all performance is a pose. Hell, if the Decemberists can sell out venues pretending to be engine drivers and chimney sweeps, Strawfoot can inhabit the fire-and-brimstone world of Depression-era string music. Reverend Uncle Marcus leads the gang with his pinched, twang-inflected voice and spare mandolin, and his gospels are long on sin and short on salvation. Bookended by versions of the standard "Wayfarin' Stranger," Chasing Locusts' ten original tracks follow a loose storyline of a philandering preacher who pays for his sins by wandering the Earth, having found that Heaven doesn't want him and that Hell is full. Can a man so addled with sin ever find redemption? It would seem not — and besides, songs about being low-down are more fun than songs about being righteous.

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The band members, who further the ruse by adding "Brother" or "Sister" to their names, play broke-down string-band music with varying degrees of skill. Sister Jenn's fiddle carries most of the tunes with either a lonesome, quavering grace (as on the murder ballad "Crooked Neck") or a sawing urgency (which propels the sing-along "My Dog").The rest of the musicians strum and pluck with more conviction than skill, as befits a band whose definition of "old-timey music" includes, among other signifiers, slide-guitar blues, amplified harmonica and booming drums. When all of these pieces come together, as they do on the stirring, propulsive "Cloth," Strawfoot seem so bound up in the spirit of the music that it's hard not to buy into the act.

 
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