Tell the Story Right
Reviewed by: Asher Wolf
I met a 10-year-old with precocious listening abilities. He could tell whether a song was going to be “good” within the first three seconds or so. Granted, the boy’s critical rubric was less than thorough, but his snap judgments were disturbingly reflective of the way most people form opinions about music in today’s market. As the art of production grows increasingly important (and songcraft consequently recedes), listeners tend to prioritize timbre and feel over musical content, sampling and evaluating the beginning of a song like the first sip of a drink.
Tell the Story Right, Cricket Tell the Weather’s second album, is immaculately produced, but the first sip is quite deceptive. The opening strums of “Briar” telegraph a folk-pop palette in the vein Ed Sheeran or The Lumineers, surely somewhat of an effort to attract the vogue genre’s substantial audience. Fashionable and pleasant, the honeyed tune is just a likely to deter those in search of a dirtier string band sound. Americana devotees, who preach musical “honesty” like the word of God, know that in the wrong hands acoustic strings can be demoted to sonic accessories meant to impose a superficial intimacy or earthiness on otherwise uninspired material.
Fortunately, though, Cricket does indeed tell it right. The fiddle romp cover of Regina Spektor’s “Samson” kicks off the record’s old timey bent, revealing folk and bluegrass roots that run much deeper than the opening track suggests. Over the next few tunes, the band turns back the clock, tracing the musical lineage of their more contemporary songwriting instrumental command and a refreshing lack of pretense.
In 2013, songwriting fiddler Andrea Asprelli tapped into Brooklyn’s massive surplus of musical virtuosity and formed the nimble acoustic quartet to realize her expressive goals. But Cricket’s collective professionalism gives the impression of an ensemble much older. The appropriately named Jeff Picker demonstrates his crisp, refined rhythm guitar work on the intro to “If I Had My Way” before delivering an emotive solo with relaxed expertise. The song’s hymnal three-part harmonies (“If I had my way, I’d tear this building down”) reveal the same comfort evident in the group’s restrained, mutually supportive musicianship.
“Photographs” utilizes Cricket’s sensitive cohesion with a graceful arrangement. Subtle variations in texture, largely due to Doug Goldstein’s lush, versatile banjo work, keep the track interesting while preserving its emotional momentum and showcasing the band’s penchant for improvisation and role reversal. The song, like most on the album, is sturdy enough to impress on its own merits, but the sublime delivery adds succulence to the well-crafted framework. The Devil Makes Three-style old time number “Alice” is another textbook example of mature arrangement, with a hearty double-bass cleverly supported by percolating banjo runs.
Tell the Story Right’s sole instrumental, “Lucinda’s Daughter”, is a straight-ahead fiddle tune with an inexplicably contemporary feel, spiced with the spare inclusion of a few oddball harmonic twists. Steering well clear of self-indulgence, the expert musicians to let loose with vibey, string-busting solos without compromising the tune’s relaxed air. Even without her powerful, vulnerable voice, Asprelli conveys personality – a practiced playfulness – through her fiddle playing, flourishing in its natural element.
As a collective, however, Cricket Tell the Weather has yet to carve out a very recognizable stylistic niche. That being said, the band still makes exciting, satisfying music, and they rarely come off as derivative in their inflection of various iconic artists. In both “Lucinda’s Daughter” and the following track, “Daisy”, Nickel Creek’s imprint is palpable, but the songs are inspired rather than imitative. The off-kilter harmonic rhythm on the closing track “Eugenia” reflects Sarah Jarosz’ recent work, and the vocal piece “That’ll Be My Home” evokes the charming earnestness characteristic of Trampled By Turtles. Tell the Story Right is a successful and admirable sophomore effort that indicates an adoration of the American string band tradition rather than an exploitation of the traditional aesthetic.