Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party on Black Prairie. But boy, what a party! The band, which is comprised of 3/5 of the Decemberists, as well as two other folk musicians from Portland, OR, works with an amazing combination of musical styles (string band, folk, bluegrass, etc.) to produce something that just gushes out atmosphere. What becomes clear, right away, is that the band’s songs (which are heavily weighted towards the instrumental) are born out of a love of genre, authenticity, and antiquity. Watching them perform on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic (which you can see below), you see a seriousness and a joyfulness that makes for some excellent music.
All of this, of course, is the result of a steady building of relationships and ideas. Here’s a bit about the band’s origin in their own words:
It all started when Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk wanted to spend more time playing the square-necked Dobro guitar. While on tour with the Decemberists, he and bassist Nick Query hatched the idea to start a primarily instrumental string band during their time off, but it was a couple more years before the Black Prairie lineup solidified. Fellow Decemberist Jenny Conlee brought along her accordion, and prolific Portland musicians Annalisa Tornfelt (The Woolwines, Bearfoot) and Jon Neufeld (Jackstraw, Dolorean) – on violin and guitar, respectively – also joined the ranks.
While it is difficult to encapsulate the sound that a band like this makes in a few sentences, it is somewhat simpler to make comparisons. Some songs, like “Red Rocking Chair” (video below) have vocals that recall the quieter moments of Mazzy Star, while others like “Across the Black Prairie” have a much more “Western” feel (perhaps it’s that “American Gothic” that Billy Corgan was looking for on Adore?). There are far more boisterous offerings, such as “Back Alley” and “Ostinato del Caminito” which wander the world over, as well. Others have gone in slightly different directions with their reviews, as in this Global Cafe review:
…Even with this shortage of vocals, anyone looking for mood music to accompany a stay in a lonely cabin on the plains or the funeral of an elderly farmer would do well to seek out Feast of the Hunters’ Moon. If I were to make a movie about ghosts haunting an isolated North Dakota town in the 19th Century, I’d want Black Prairie to compose the score.
How can that not make you curious?
Here’s “Red Rocking Chair:”
And here’s that KCRW performance:
Finally, here’s a wonderful clip from the excellent Intothewoods.tv site:
You can visit the band on their website, myspace, or twitter. You can also find their album – Feast of the Hunters’ Moon on Sugar Hill Records (where you can also get a free mp3 of “Red Rocking Chair”). Enjoy!