Moonsville Collective – Heavy Howl

Even on their more upbeat tracks, there’s a shot of melancholy running through Moonsville Collective’s Heavy Howl. Moonsville Collective is a California-based, seven-piece Americana group—including two generations of the same family—playing the sort of music that one might expect hill folk to play, but with the occasional harder edge.

Heavy Howl showcases some excellent playing. Mandolin player Matthew McQueen, in particular, has some incredible moments, like on the instrumental “Chickens Hate Heat.” His nimble work is a highlight on a track where most players (all of whom are quite wonderful) get a moment in the spotlight on this old-school, wildly lively song. McQueen’s mandolin line on the chugging road song, “End Of The Line” is especially lovely. The opening track, “Blue Money Grove” features some acrobatic mandolin playing. The song is dark, urgent, threatening, and heavy. Mandolin and fiddle swirl like autumn leaves on a sidewalk, elegant and fluid. Vocalists Corey Adams and Ryan Welch make some fine, husky harmonies. It’s a must listen.

Songs on Heavy Howl range from the old school jam session of “Chickens Hate Heat,” to the very modern Americana feeling of “Rollin’ In Paradise.” Banjos chug along under chunky guitars, and Corey Adams’s voice is gritty and right. It sounds much like a Blitzen Trapper song, if a bit slight lyrically. Heavier, lyrically, is the appealing “Chicago,” a yearning story of the hope of building a life together (“We can start a family and build a home” is repeated and heart tugging). It’s an honest, lovely song, with subtle drum rolls all the way through thanks to drummer Drew Martin’s effective playing. You can’t help but hope things work out for the couple in the song, because they certainly didn’t for the sad narrator of “Nowheresville.” Doomed relationships, life passing by, it’s all here and heartfelt. The production is wonderful: careworn vocals, a spacious piano sound of simple ringing chords. It’s all spare and quite moving.

The charmer “Big Jimmy” feels like an ancient song catapulted to modernity. The harmonies are sublime on this character study and the chorus is frightfully catchy. “Cow And The Cream” is an elegy about a fading way of life: farming. The lonesome harmonies and sad fiddle (Sean Kibler’s playing is spot on and perfectly melancholic) make the track evocative.

Heavy Howl is a satisfyingly rootsy, sometimes twangy album. Moonsville Collective have made a timeless record that, while dipping toes into different branches of the Americana stream, find that the waters all flow from the same place. It’s an album steeped in a rich history of American music, with just enough variation to keep things lively.

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