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No Line North – Dreams of Trees Part 1 EP (Twin Lakes)

No Line North - Dream of Trees Part 1
9 June 2017

This New Haven, CT Americana/folk-pop collective’s 2010 self-titled debut, which I called “fresh and inspired” in issue 66, was released under the moniker Closely Watched Trains. But a Portland, OR bluegrass outfit with the same name necessitated a change to No Line North for their next LP, 2014’s Farther Out Beyond Today. Still, CWT’s core lineup of singer/guitarist Jon Schlesinger, bassist John Leonard, drummer John Gage, and violinist Tamaryn Bulyk remains, though they’ve since added second drummer Michael Kiefer (also of the heavier Myty Konkeror, and Twin Lakes founder/label head) and second violinist Brian Slattery. (Slattery handles all fiddle duties on this EP, however, with the recently baby-begetting Bulyk busy being a new Mom.) Compared to Farther’s denser, more robust rock crunch, the production and playing on Dreams is lighter and lither. Described by the Hartford Courant as a “Krautrock-Appalachia hybrid,” the galloping, seven-minute instrumental opener “Line Drive” is fueled by a hypnotic, Feelies-meets-Neu repetitive rhythm, Schlesinger’s quick-fingered banjo picking, spacey psych-drone effects, and Nick Drake-like soothing strings. (Befitting its title, you can also imagine “Line” backing up vintage black-and-white baseball footage, in the manner of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” video.)

But as on previous releases, the band’s bread-and-butter is on the lyric-laden numbers. On the bucolic standout “Butterflies,” Schlesinger’s reassuring, relaxed voice blends beguilingly with New Haven singer/songwriter guest Lys Guillorn’s comely croon, as Slattery’s beautiful bowing beckons behind them. As well, his violin saws and sashays sumptuously throughout the classical waltz/Irish shanty-summoning “Sky and Sea” and the skipping, hillbilly/bluegrass-infused shindig “Under the Sun.” (The latter brings to mind L.A. violinist Chris Murphy’s similarly-styled 2016 LP Red Mountain Blues, which I reviewed here.) To close the EP, the group covers a traditional mountain song called “Sugar Baby,” opting to follow the 1927 interpretation by Virginia coal miner/banjoer Dock Boggs (1898-1971), who first recorded it. Yet unlike Boggs’s briskly-sung banjo rendition, NLN slow down the tune’s tempo, making it resemble a dark murder ballad or spooky campfire tale, with Schlesinger’s muted, mysterious murmur and Gage’s chiming vibraphone reinforcing its tortured tale of a ruinous romance. The band say Part 2 (due later this year) will delve into garage rock; here’s betting it’ll bear all the fineness and fulfillment of their folk forays. (twinlakesrecords.com, nolinenorth.bandcamp.com)

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