Black Prairie are a progressive string band from various quarters of Portland, Oregon which seems to have a rich bedrock of musicians and artists on tap. Three-fifths of the band are made up of Decemberists members which has helped provide them with addtional exposure to their very unique style of neo-traditional Americana’ish music.
According to their site, the seed was planted by Decemberists guitarist, Chris Funk and his bassist, Nate Query. Chris took a shine to the square-necked Dobro guitar and whilst on tour with Nate they came up with the idea for a primarily instrumental string band. A couple of years down the line they were joined by fellow Decemberist Jenny Conlee on accordion and Annalisa Tornfelt (Woolwines, Bearfoot) on violin and Jon Neufield (Jackstraw, Dolorean) on guitar. Funk says:
At that time I needed a musical shot in the arm and I remember driving away from our first practice feeling elated.
It wasn’t until 2008 that things began to gel, a delay not helped by busy schedules in their other guises.They began to meet at eachothers houses for sessions where the casual and relaxed atmosphere provided a fertile ground for collaborative ideas. Nate Query:
Once we play it together, everyone starts throwing ideas in and it takes shape in a very collaborative way. We always add one completely out-there, bizarre section to every song. And in one out of every three songs, it actually gets retained. We’re trying to really keep the integrity of the acoustic aspect of it – of just five people playing instruments – so we don’t really experiment with that. But otherwise, it’s no holds barred: With these five instruments, what can we do?
As well as some very strong neo-traditional root elements to the album there are also explorations into Klezmer and classical which intertwine throughout. Although the initial concept of the band was to be primarily instrumental Red Rocking Chair is one of the best tracks on the album. From a purely personal point of view I found more to get excited about on this track than the some of the more bluegrassy tracks such as Back Alley. Taking the decision to use Tornfelt’s vocals was a wise move, I don’t think the album would be holding as much attraction as a sole instrumental. As far as the instrumentals are concerned the easy going “Atrocity at Celilo Falls” stood out with some great dobro and atmosphere. Full Moon in June is a very close follow-up.
Overall it’s fair to say I enjoyed parts of the album but I wouldn’t dismiss those elements I was less keen on. This may be one of those albums you need to listen to for a while after which it will gradually grow on you…time will tell.
Feast of the Hunters was released on Sugar Hill records in April this year and was produced by Tucker Martine who is known for his work with artists such as My Morning Jacket, Mudhoney, Bill Frisell, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs and Spoon.