You know a real folk song when you hear it; it could have been written 100 years ago or in 100 years, and it would sound the same.
The Low Anthem wrote 11 timeless folk tunes and called it “Smart Flesh.” It is an early candidate for album of the year, as it is gorgeous musically, moving lyrically and consistent in quality. There’s not an average song in the lot; they’re all amazing. From the mournful clarinet composition “Wire” to the devastating banjo solitude of “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes” to the brilliant lyrics and plaintive melodies of “Apothecary Love,” they camp in out in a world-weary mood and turn it out in as many different ways as they can. The hope that shines through their downhearted compositions transforms this from a miserable experience to one that can be related to without concern for one’s emotional state.
The feeling at the end of the album-closing title track is similar to hugging a sad friend: The friend feels a little better, and you are happy to cheer them, even though you share their sadness. It helps that Ben Knox Miller’s voice is one of the most comforting and inviting I’ve ever come across; his smooth tones make it seem like he’s not even trying when he sings. He sells the spare “Smart Flesh” with an earnestness that makes it hard to pull attention from the song.
The piano-laden “Ghost Woman Blues” features more of Miller’s gorgeous vocals, but this time in a high, keening falsetto. He’s harmonized with by Jocie Adams, who also plays clarinet (they all play everything, really; labels are ineffective), and her voice meshes perfectly for his. It is almost the model of what I want to hear in folk music.
These songs are nigh on perfect, packed full of flourishes (like distant muted trumpets paired with an upfront clarinet) that don’t clutter the sound at all. They even throw down some distorted foot-stompers, like the triumphant “Boeing 737” and “Hey, All You Hippies!” This band can do no wrong.
If you like folk music at all, The Low Anthem is your new favorite band. They’ve built on the promise of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and delivered another knockout set of tunes. It’s dazzling, stunning, powerful, insert your own term of high praise here. —Stephen Carradini