By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
From the sweetly sung ukulele reveries of Beirut to the raggle-taggle gypsy-punk of Gogol Bordello, the hybrid of Eastern European folk and Western pop has hollowed out its own niche in indie music over the past few years. The nine-piece Bootz Orchestra works in this genre as well, under the direction of St. Louis-born Kyle Butz. The core band members met at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, and their conservatory training gives no small amount of technical proficiency to this normally rough-hewn style of folk music. Luckily, the Bootz Orchestra isn't interested in a strict re-creation of folk idioms â instead, the mish-mash of intuitive, rock-based drumming, brass-band harmonies and rootsy accordion lines combines to give a spirited foundation to Butz's high, quavering vocals.
Even though Butz is backed by powerful tuba, baritone sax and upright bass vibrations, his ukulele strums and banjo-picking sets the tone and direction for these six songs. "Our Daughters" begins with Butz and his banjo unadorned; a speedy, martial snare drum then picks up the beat while a trumpet and accordion play the theme in the choruses. The next track on the EP, "Moths 2; Moths 4," finds Butz singing of family trauma with startling clarity as his bandmates play minor-key melody lines behind him.
It's to the Bootz Orchestra's credit that the songs on Bony Jars could work with one player or all nine; Butz's lyrics don't require a rocked-up Balkan folk backdrop, but the style mostly fits the cloudy mood of his songs. Unfortunately, there's not always much to distinguish one song from the next; each is built to inspire some sort of dancing, but the march-time beats are so restrictive that the goosestep seems like the only option. These strictures loosen (and the mood lightens) with the disc-closing "CoMO," a tempo-shifting ode to Columbia, Missouri, that features a rousing chorale at the coda. It's the place on the record where the Bootz Orchestra feels most like a band comprised of individual talents and voices instead of a well-orchestrated backdrop for Butz's songs.
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