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 — 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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