The Family Way
The Folk Family Revival's debut album Unfolding blew away everything we'd understood about folk music. Mason Lankford, the band's main monster, is a young man who has already grasped more of the world than most grizzled songsmiths. Backed by the rest of FFF — Mason's brothers, Barrett and Lincoln Lankford, and their friend Caleb Pace — the music obliterates all the civilization around you and leaves you standing naked under the eyes of the sky. We can pinpoint listening to Unfolding for the first time as the exact moment when we began to really believe that the next great American music movement would be the particularly dark Americana we call Southern Gothic.
To this day, not a week goes by that we don't find ourselves humming "Fallin'," Lankford's testament to the utter inability of the center to hold. "You can break the ropes, but you can't break the spell / You can have high hopes, but you're still gonna fail." It's lines like that — bleak, uncompromising looks at the harsh realties of the world, without a hint of shying from them — that have led us to think of FFF as "Atticus Finch in guitar form."
Since we began chronicling FFF, the band has done pretty well for itself, opening for Willie Nelson, of all people. Lankford is a longtime Nelson fan, and the gig came about through some last-minute, deft maneuvering by one of Houston's best bookers, Jason Price. Five-thousand rabid fans of Nelson got to sample the wares from FFF, and found some common ground with them, despite the band not being what anyone could really call country, new-school or old-school.
"I don't consider myself a country artist," said Lankford in an e-mail interview, surprising in and of itself as he rarely uses a computer, doesn't own a CD player and is generally happiest when surrounded by the trappings of the past. "The term 'country music' got messed up a long time ago. I have a few songs that may fit in with some country, but if you look at the charts, we are more accepted as Americana music than country music. But I don't really consider us 'Americana' either. To be honest, I don't know what it is, and I don't care what anyone calls it. I just love whatever it is."
One of the things that initially drew us into Lankford as a lyricist was his spirituality. When he delves into the world of the metaphysical, he shines a poetic light right into the heart of popular worship, exposing its clogged arteries as the direct opposite of honest prayer. We love the humble bitchslap of something like "Ye of Little Faith," which explores some of the more cracked points of view hailing from the deep reaches of faith, but for our money nothing will ever be said in this area that could possibly beat Lankford's own version of the Book of Revelation, "Chasing a Rabbit."
They say a stopped clock is right twice a day, and when they say that they are usually pointing to the insane ramblings of an insane rambler. Well, if you took those twice-daily doses of lucidity and strung them together over a breathless beat, then you'd get "Chasing a Rabbit." FFF missed the boat by not naming the album after a lyric in "Rabbit": "the Bank of Christopher Columbus's Wasteland."
Lankford starts "Rabbit" singing, "There will come a day when we forget that / The rapture ever even happened." It still has us wondering not only if the world will end, but if it already has, and it just doesn't matter one tick. After all, in addition to every political candidate and commentator prophesying the death of America, semi-mystical conspiracy theorists are crowing about how Mayans predicted Armageddon in 2012.
We asked Lankford about this. "Nobody knows," he said. "And even if they do, should we have all waited till the last year to change and start getting ready for it? I think my new songs have a lot to say about how I feel about this subject. But it's a pretty damn loaded question. The Mayans predicted that it would happen on December 21 of this year, the Book of Revelation says nobody will know the time or the hour, and most everyone here in America flat out doesn't care 'cause we are having so much fun we believe there's no end in sight. Most people I talk to about the subject say the world will never end. I'll quote myself in a new song we're working on: 'I can't promise you the world will end, but it has happened before it could happen again. You've made your mark you can feel it, now kill it yourself.'"
The new stuff Lankford is working on has us all aquiver in anticipation, and not just because FFF is at its best when in prophecy mode, full-tilt-boogie. The songs on Unfolding represent a long period of gestation in Lankford, from the time he was 12 all the way up to the recording process. The songs show a slow, languid evolution. The new material will be more focused, more in tune with what Folk Family Revival has become.
"The songs that we are writing now have all been written in the last year, and [bassist] Barrett [Lankford] has been spending a lot of time writing as well for this record. This project will reflect on things that we have learned through life but are just now able to put into words and rhythm and sometimes rhyme. As an artist, I'm trying to think more freely and on my own and so are my brothers, so our genre now is moving in a more original direction."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.