Lots of bands play loud. Playing loud is easy. Just crank up your Marshall stack and hammer out undistinguished barre chords in varying patterns of D, A and G and you've mastered half the songbook of modern rock & roll. It's playing quietly that's the tricky part, allowing every alcove of a song's structure to be exposed and vulnerable, giving equal credence to the warble of the musical saw as to each finger-plucked string of a banjo. Theodore, a contemplative folk group fronted by the wisp-bearded Justin Kinkel-Schuster (see Best Vocalist [Male] elsewhere in this section), is a swami of silence. With the barest assemblage of pedal steel, muted trumpet and bowed bass, the men of Theodore manage to evoke wide blue skies and broken homes, dusty country roads and dead-end Rust Belt jobs. While their albums are a thing of beauty, it's their reverent live show that sets them apart from any other band in town — otherwise jostling, smoky bars fall to an attentive hush as four country-croaked harmonies blend in the air without the aid of a PA.
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