Massachusetts Daily Collegian

“Down Like Silver” a miniature masterpiece

By Dave Coffey

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In a world where the moniker “indie folk pop” seems to vaguely describe every other aspiring musical act in the underground music scene, it can seem nearly hopeless to kick against the pricks in search of an outfit whose genuine acoustic folk stylings resonate with both sincerity and bare aural beauty. Enter Down Like Silver, a collaboration between Brooklyn based songwriter Peter Bradley Adams and Vermont native songstress Caitlin Canty. The duo’s self-titled debut, which was released in October on their Bandcamp website, is a six-song EP that seamlessly marries the pair’s melodically minimalistic stylings, bringing out the best in both performers.

Album opener “Wolves” sets the tone for the album well – more of a fair-weather dirge than a ballad, propelled by a sparse yet poignant piano line and dark, rousing lyricism that stops somewhere short of defeatism despite its deathly subject matter. While the album’s mood varies considerably throughout its relatively short length, every phrasing and refrain is filled to the brim with the raw, naked emotion of two dedicated songwriters pouring their heart into their music. Good folk music tells the story – great folk music brings the listener on the journey. Whether it’s the daringly hopeful melodic strains of “Any Day” or the wilting, uncertain waltz of “Pasture,” Down Like Silver paints the musical landscape with broad, sublime strokes.

Perhaps the most ear-pleasing aspect of this album is that it is nearly entirely “co-sung” – that is, as opposed to duets, the songs are mainly sung by both Adams and Canty simultaneously throughout. It is one thing to combine two vocalists with different styles and ranges into a cohesive package – it’s entirely another to meld the two voices together in song as if they’re one doubly emotive instrument. At times, Canty’s and Adams’ voices sound less like two vocalists singing their own vocal lines, and more like a pianist voicing two parts together. As a result, the vocals on this album are both harmonically rich and incredibly expressive, accenting the wise-beyond-their-years songwriting abilities of both musicians.

Songs such as these, in the roots folk tradition, emphasize aesthetic restraint. The lyricism isn’t overstated, but is gripping nonetheless. The serene ebb and flow of the album’s folky progressions betrays the tension deftly built and released by subjects such as personal existential crisis in the track “Pasture” and a nomadic search for peace of mind in “Idaho.” While the songs have their fair shares of various hues and dimensions that play to their emotional depth, it is their stripped down, bare bones approach that plays to the album’s overall longing and haunting tone.

The folk genre is one that must be undertaken with a light touch and a heavy heart, and Down Like Silver pursues this musical end beautifully. The basis is organic here, evoking a natural, wild-spirited range of imagery. Mostly driven by acoustic chord progressions, the melodic motifs and lyrical flourishes within each song effortlessly turn themselves out. Songs like “Have I Loved” boast a melodiousness that is both instantaneous and timeless to the ear. Both Adams and Canty have been lauded for their songwriting prowess, and the ceaselessly melodic intervention on this album serves to highlight their abilities.

The tracks are relatively simple in structure, driven mainly by Adams’ knowingly unobtrusive piano playing and folksy acoustic guitar lines. Most of the songs also feature additional instrumental accompaniment, making for a subtly lush backdrop for Adams’ and Canty’s musings. The gentle swishes of brushes on a drum kit while a cello or upright bass play softly underfoot provides a perfectly minimalist foundation, allowing the songs to breath and take on an echoing, ethereal life all their own. As the lyrics in “Lazy Snow” ceremoniously reflect, “The streets are empty/and it’s beautiful.”

A highly underappreciated facet of music like this is the necessary underpinning of the rhythm section. While soft soliloquys like “Idaho” are self-sustaining, the majority of these tracks greatly benefit from the class act studio musicianship of drummer Jimmy Paxson, electric bass guitarist Daryl Johnson and upright bassist Ian Walker. While the dynamic of this album is perhaps more fleeting than driving, the colorful percussion and tasteful low-end work provide the songs with due rhythmic movement.

Most of the material features sprinklings of other genres in addition to their sturdy, uncomplicated folk bases. Songs like “Have I Loved” brandish the effortless melodic sensibility of pop, without seeming lost in looking for the hook. The melodies are sweet but not saccharin, the songs as a whole immediate yet deeply resounding. There’s also a considerable amount of country in there, too, more “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” than “Folsom Prison Blues.” Delicate and expertly placed whines of pedal steel guitar weave throughout the album, punctuating both the carefree and melancholic moments on songs such as “Lazy Snow” and “Pasture,” respectively.

The oft-forgotten purpose of musical collaboration between two competent artists can be summed up by the old reliable adage: you’re looking for a product whose whole is greater than just the sum of the parts. Adams and Canty manage to pull this off with grace to spare. Down Like Silver has found that balance most “folk pop” acts never achieve, producing the rare musical hybrid of thoughtful and heart wrenching – the soul will love it after the first listen, and the mind will still love it after the tenth.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected].

 

2 Comments

2 Responses to ““Down Like Silver” a miniature masterpiece”

  1. Geoff Cottrill on February 11th, 2012 11:31 am

    A great review of a great record. Thank you!

  2. Anwesha on April 8th, 2012 3:30 am

    I am SO glad I discovered this band 🙂 I am in love with the song Idaho. 🙂
    All the snogs on the album are great :)..takes me to a different world..nostalgia..searching some piece of mind..Well in short beautiful music? this is it 🙂

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