Every once in a while music brings people together and provides for really exciting creative forces to flow. I only endorse such a cheesy sentiment because I witness that matchmaker power music has over people all the time. I’ve dived into the cliché barrel on this occasion because the past few months have brought me some exciting feedback from the important people I mention on this page, and this weekend I took my rock journalism act on the road to shed some light on Austin, Texas’ East Cameron Folkcore.
This specific story begins back in October when I profiled another Austin-based outfit, Bankrupt and the Borrowers, here on this site. I inadvertently misnamed a member of the band and was duly corrected, but in those exchanges I established correspondence with a few people close to both that band and East Cameron Folkcore. I was informed that the group would soon be releasing a new album of material and that a release party would be held in Austin in early 2013. I was to be invited as press.
East Cameron Folkcore released their first recorded work in 2011, and the band has swelled into a collective in an amusingly symmetrical fashion to the dynamic profile many of their songs take. Blending folk, punk, and blues (with dashes of grunge, doo-wop, and carefully-orchestrated noise), the group sounds as though a large folk band just kept turning the volume knobs up until they were screaming over everything. This works incredibly well, and honestly beggars questions about how lines aren’t more frequently drawn between folksy protest songs and hard-nosed punk; it seems that the two genres have historically been mutually appreciative and share goals, but it’s rare to hear such a simple fusion performed.
With the brand new full-length For Sale released this past week, the listener has the treat of partaking of just such a fusion. The album begins with an anti-establishment rail against “the machine” and seems a perfectly timely continuation of Occupy Wall Street ideals. East Cameron Folkcore have seemingly taken their protest songs to the rally itself for this record and proceeded to crank their amps up to be heard over unionists and countless thousands drowning in government-subscribed debt. For Sale‘s album cover is brandished with a sign inviting buyers to make an offer on the Texas State Capitol, and the not-so-subtle exhaustion with government apparatuses is clear from the get-go.
Bankrupt and the Borrowers seemed to perfectly the embody of the struggling independent rocker, and East Cameron Folkcore singer-guitarists Jesse Moore and Blue Mongeon (formerly of Bankrupt and the Borrowers) have carried that sentiment into their new project with the added benefit of solidarity. In a band whose lineup can stretch into double digits a voice or a stringed instrument can easily be lost, but the subject matter that the group covers on For Sale lends itself to letting a group of likeminded fellows air their grievances simultaneously. With four lead singers stepping to and fro over the shifting many-headed monster of instrumentalists, East Cameron Folkcore have improved upon the solitary protest singer strumming his acoustic guitar by inviting all of the other protesters on stage as well.
The tracks on For Sale are an interesting listen, especially given their musical variety. “Enemy of the Times” is a punk-rock tune through-and-through, while “Robin Hoods Rise” and “Humble Pie” would be equally straight-ahead punk anger if not for 6/8 swaying in the case of the former and a slow descent into a New Orleans stomp to bring the latter to a climax. The Moore-led “Salinger is Dead” is as close to the platonic ideal of folk-punk as is possible, with arpeggiated guitar riffs and downcast lyrics giving way to a shout-along chorus with gang vocals and mandolin strumming. The diversity of the band’s members and the committee approach they’ve taken to lead vocal duty give some unexpected turns; “Chasing the Devil” gives Mongeon a chance to take the volume and tempo down (only to bring both up again) in order to give thanks that his friends are on the same tough road, “Don’t Choke” gives screamer Allen Dennard a chance to echo Man Man’s scruffy take on doo-wop songs, and “Director’s Cut” is singer/trombonist Blake Bernstein’s folksy ballad with a helplessly catchy refrain that “we’re all going to hell.” Rounding out the record are the menacing rocker “Worst Enemy“; the wistful tune for the oppressed and forgotten in “Ophelia“; and “$allie Mae“, (ostensibly) a song about a break-up with a cruel mistress.
East Cameron Folkcore’s For Sale works well because enough of its political subversion is cloaked in mixed metaphors and literary references that listening to the crashing drums, long-drawn cello, and wailing troop of weary Austinites doesn’t immediately betray the subject matter. Having said that, the depth and scope of the band’s anger and frustration is evident before a close examination of the lyrics is necessary, and the music works in tandem with words spoken and yelled to give the whole affair the feel of something brewing just underneath the surface of our current society. For Sale seems to exist at an important juncture in American life at which the impoverished and desperate have decided that they’ve had enough and are saying something about how they’ve been treated. In East Cameron Folkcore’s case the rally cries aren’t only shouted, they are crooned and plucked and strummed and bowed. Living as we all are in a political-economic climate that is as tenuous as a drum stick in the hand of a heavy-hitting punk drummer, East Cameron Folkcore’s For Sale marries the joy of solidarity with the righteous anger of the downtrodden to produce an auditory demonstration that marches straight up to that machine reference in the opening soundbite and lies across the tracks demanding to be heard.
Part II, in which I recount the veritable production that was For Sale‘s release party Friday night, is coming soon. For Sale is currently available via East Cameron Folkcore’s website as a pay-what-you-want download with proceeds benefitting any of 13 different charities or nonprofit organizations.