because cool kids are boring

The Crane Wives – Coyote Stories

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Loosing a band member is always a tricky proposition for a group. Do you replace the individual, or go on as is? Is it a time to strike out on a new path, or a moment to rededicate to the original vision? The oft-heard refrains of ‘they were better before X left the group’ or ‘They should have just called it quits after Y left’ are a testament to how hard the challenge can be.

The Crane Wives faced this challenge recently when the band’s banjo player, Tom Gunnels, decided to move on to other opportunities. The challenge was even harder given the fact that Tom’s banjo style had been an integral component of the groups sonic DNA. The rest of the band (two acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and dual female vocalists) is a fairly standard format in the broad marketing term of Americana. While adding a banjo to such a mix isn’t exactly revolutionary, his style of playing was more contemporary folk then Appalachian, which gave the band a more distinctive sound that separated them from other groups. Continuing without a banjo player would surely alter the band’s sound and not necessarily for the better. The safe bet would be to find another banjo player with a similar style and continue on as if nothing had happened. The group decided to take the risk though and moved forward as a four piece.

Coyote Stories, the band’s first album as a four piece, is proof that this was the right choice. While the loss of the banjo created a void in the group, they’ve ably filled it by playing into their talents and opening up the possibilities of their sound.

Those talents include the vocal harmonies of the group’s lead vocalists and guitarists Kate Pillsbury and Emilee Petersmark, with backing vocals provided by drummer Dan Rickabus. While the vocals have always been a core component of the group’s sound, in many cases they’ve now been pushed into the undisputed spotlight, especially on songs like Rockslide and Sleeping Giants.

Rockslide and Sleeping Giants are also great examples of another of the groups talents, the rhythm section of Dan and bassist Ben Zito. In these two songs they propel the song forward with a beat that not only provides structure for the song, but helps to set the mood and inform the song. Whether it’s the barely contained rhythm of Rockslide or the majesty of Sleeping Giants. The two know when to step forward with their playing and when to step back and let something else take the spotlight.

The final talent are the songs themselves. There is a fearlessness in the group’s songwriting. A willingness to touch nerves and cut veins in a public and cathartic way. The previously mentioned songs, as well as ones like Hard Sell or The Hand That Feeds, will fill dance floors and get people stomping their feet, but songs like Unraveling or Never Love an Anchor will keep someone safe during a long dark night.

The Crane Wives definitely feel like a part of the current generation of indie folks groups, but while many of their contemporaries are focused on mining the past, looking for some kind of authenticity, they seem content to mine their own experiences.


Rockslide from The Crane Wives on Vimeo.

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Written by Matt

September 6th, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized