Call it a mishmash, a hodgepodge or a catchall, but Blood Pony takes a kitchen-sink approach to orchestrating its roughshod folk songs. In concert, the septet supplements the normal guitar/bass/drums trio with trombone, violin, glockenspiel, Moog synthesizer and a marching band-size bass drum. On its first full-length, Escapists, however, the band doesn't overwhelm with its unique instrumentation, and the strings, horns and percussion do their best to add some color to these dour, minor-key dirges. Guitarist and singer James Walker's voice has the reedy resonance to push through the clutter most of the time, and often violinist Tori Walters lifts him up with crystalline harmonies.
At the album's open, Blood Pony can work artfully with these varying shades of gray: The disc opens with "Follow Lights. Panic! Run You Fools!" and its reverent a cappella chorus; the song never quite earns those exclamation marks in its title, though. The twinkling, twangy "Coming Home" fares better, with intersecting trombone and violin lines dipping and diving over sweet guitar strums and glockenspiel arpeggios.
But for all the fun I've seen the members of Blood Pony have onstage in leading its little Salvation Army band in making a joyful noise, it's a shame that much of this record gets bogged down with vague, unexplained heaviness. One can't help but notice the Funeral-era Arcade Fire homage in "Children of Lightning," with wordlessly cooed vocals, keening fiddle and a stridently bombastic coda. Ultimately, the seven-minute song doesn't have the legs to prop up the layered-on gravitas. The record is proof that Blood Pony can do windswept and ornate folk songs quite well; the trick will be for the band to extract those snatches of angst, pathos and heart from the center of these oft-overdrawn songs and whip them into something taut and muscular.
Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. E-mail [email protected] for more information.