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Sound Off!: Small Sur

Small Sur is yet another testament to the talent that resides in our fair charmed city. Beyond the bizarre and the novelty, there is a massive well of traditional folk/Americana that rarely gets the attention it deserves (thanks to the focus on the more spastic and brightly-colored portions of our music scene).

Bob Keal, Small Sur’s front-man and driving creative force, creates just this type of music. He was kind enough to share with us some tracks off Small Sur’s upcoming full-length We Live in Houses Made of Wood, out in August on Portland-based label Tender Loving Empire.

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Small Sur – Ohhhhh Pt. 1

Small Sur’s music is picturesque without being specific, conjuring broad imagery. Transportive to a place that will surely be individual to each listener, and likely have some specific and nostalgic memories attached. Each song comes across like an ode to wilderness, wide-open and beautiful, inspiring reflection and appreciation. Music that works just as well sipping a beer on the porch at a quiet, secluded cabin, or going for a ruminative night-time stroll through the woods.

In Small Sur’s sound, I often hear a mature Band of Horses. Something more relaxed, substantive and confident. Less flash and big rock and more contented with a pared down, rural backcountry existence. Keal seems to start songs stripped to their essence, and over time begins to build them up with deliberate care, as if erecting a log cabin by hand.

Listening to “Ohhhhh Pt. 1,” I imagine a waning campfire on a warm summer night, sparking with plucking of the guitar/banjo lines as if embers were being stoked. The soaring, gently harmonized and staggered vocals like flickering flames, shimmering and resonant in a breeze, as Keal knowingly croons “I feel the breeze, so transcendentally”. Support vocals are used sparingly and to great effect, farther back in the mix for a really lingering, textured touch that emphasizes that sense of distant nostalgia and warmth.

“Sand Dollar” features even more nimble guitar lines under-girded by a lush, legato-styled bass line that washes over you like a warm, rising tide (how apropos given the song title). Featuring a bit more forward momentum than “Ohhhhh…” and exchanging that track’s longing sensation with a bit more wistful and purposed one.

To put it bluntly, I can’t wait to hear this LP. If it tracks anything like these previews, it will undoubtedly reach my top albums of the year list. Small Sur present longing narratives with gorgeous, down-tempo traditional American country and folk as their musical vehicle. Refreshingly pure and confident in style and remarkably mature for a relatively young group. In a time when it seems everyone is searching for their “unique” selling point, their only concern seems to be constructing immersive folk in the finest American tradition; and it is because of this that they wholeheartedly succeed.

Stay tuned for more exclusive Small Sur content as the CD release approaches in late summer.

Upcoming shows:

Saturday June 14th – Big Art Show! (BAS!) @ Load of Fun Studios

Friday June 27th – with the Shivers (NYC), Ben and Bruno, Andy Abelow (Bmore) @ Copycat Annex

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