Note: Due to an error in the metadata in the review copy that we were sent the track listing on Water Walker appeared in alphabetical order instead of the intended order. We withdraw all criticisms of the album's pacing after re-listening to it in the correct order and would like to replace it with this one-sentence thumbnail review: Water Walker is another well-crafted pop folk outing from Folk Family Revival that showcases the band's unique blend of dream-like imagery and driving, down-home music to leave a dark, lasting effect on the listener.
Unfolding by Folk Family Revival was easily one of the best local records of 2011, a down-home sucker-punch that mixed pop-folk with poignant, brilliant lyrics. Four years later. the band is back with a new record, Water Walker, and a high bar to clear.
To be perfectly honest, Water Walker has a pacing problem. Unfolding came out of the gate with a roar using "Fallin'", a love song that was equal parts whisper and scream. It got you hard and good and led easily into the ups and downs of the rest of the record.
Water Walker stumbles into its run time at first. "American Standard" is a plodding affair that feels like you're listening to it at three-quarter speed. It aims for a swinging rhythm but comes across slightly drunk. Following is a cover of Shellee Coley's "Cotton Dress," a payback for Coley's rendition of "Shade from the Storm" on her Songs Without Bridges. When Coley does FFR, she infuses a track with a hopelessness that belies Mason Lankford's chagrining optimism, but Lankford turns a mom-rock track into something that's not quite a love song or a family ode. It just rings off.
Which is a shame, because once the record gets to "Darlin'," you feel like you're finally getting the album that Water Walker is actually supposed to be. Those gospel hand-claps, that banjo that sounds like a train running hot, and a rare distorted vocal effect for Lankford lend the record an air of experimentation while still tethered to the sound they mastered on Unfolding. It's not the most poetic song on the album, but it's got the melody and the rhythm to get you right the hell up off your feet in a way the pretentions of honky-tonk on "American Standard" never do.
And then you get "Dream." Holy mother of God, I'm not sure if I've ever heard a song like this. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to get from Jim Morrison through a Ouija Board as played by Lyle Lovett with a lyrical assist from Neil Gaiman. Can a song itself be haunted? If it's possible, then this is the best evidence I can put forward.
It's nearly impossible to explain it. It's a song about dreams, obviously, but it takes you by the hand walks you around a shifting series of mental images like dark towers, abandoned factories and powerless angels. If FFR never writes another song they would still always be heralded for making this tune happen. I hope they score the end of the world. No one does the Book of Revelation like them.
For a more fun ride, you're also going to want to make sure you try out "If It Don't Kill You," another one of those weird tunes the band is so good with. It's a track that tackles life head-on, letting you know that pain and death are a feature, not a bug. I'm always amused and awed by the way FFR are so damned dedicated to enjoying the ever-increasing entropy of the universe.
Overall Water Walker doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, but then again its predecessor was a masterpiece of an album in all regards. That said, there are songs on here that are better than on Unfolding; "Sunshine" and "I Drew a Line," in addition to the ones I mentioned before.
Some lines sung in the course of this album I'll take to my grave, brilliant lyrics like "I'm not staring at the sunshine/ the sunshine's staring at me." The ability to craft things like that is as strong with Folk Family Revival as it's ever been.
Folk Family Revival releases Water Walker 8:30 p.m. tonight at Dosey Doe Coffee, 25911 I-45 N., The Woodlands.
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