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Homespun: Strawfoot 

How We Prospered
(self-released)

From the start of Strawfoot's second full-length, How We Prospered, it's clear that the ramped-up bluegrass band has lightened its mood. Where its debut album, Chasing Locusts, was scorched by fire and blackened with brimstone, Prospered finds no small amount of joy in the dark folds of its Gothic Americana-inspired songs. The disc kicks off with the jaunty, banjo-driven "Broken Crown," which careens along with fiddle and guitar solos and a knee-slapping rhythm. Singer Marcus Eder has grown into his high-pitched, occasionally pinched delivery, and he inhabits these songs rather than merely performing them. Gone, too, are many of the Civil War-era string band affectations that saddled parts of Strawfoot's debut record; this time around, the band isn't shy about mixing influences, as on the raw, electric guitar-led "Invisible Man." Later on the disc, the distorted Irish folk of "Churchyard Cough" recalls the Clash-meets-Chieftains aesthetic of the Pogues and Flogging Molly.

Of course the wages of sin reappear on the album's second half, because Strawfoot delights in soundtracking the final footsteps of the damned. "Seven Ways" walks through the seven deadly sins with a loping gate, and "Sinner's Lament" uses a shuffling, cavalry-calling drumbeat that builds along with a seesawing fiddle and rangy guitar. Guitarist Steve Simmons is the wild card here, infusing these songs with Crazy Horse-inspired squalls or jazzy strums to punctuate the flurry of Jennifer Neimann's mournful fiddle and Brian Bauer's relentless banjo. But it's Bauer who carries most of the instrumental weight; his banjo sets the table for nearly every song, and his turn on lead vocals for "Independence Day" is a growling, flint-eyed highlight. But for all the forays into sin and damnation, How We Prospered lives up to its name and ends with the gospel-organ raver "Goin' South," where Eder and his broke-down choir find salvation by any means necessary. For a band that once seemed permanently embalmed in sepia tone, it's a welcome flash of tent-revival grace.

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May 27, 2020

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