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Album Review: Bombadil – A Buzz, A Buzz (Ramseur)

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MP3: Bombadil – Cavaliers Har Hum 

Hailing from Durham, North Carolina, Bombadil are presumably named in honor of Tom Bombadil of Lord of the Rings fame.  They play an eclectic mix of folksy indie rock with a diverse array of instruments including the banjo, zampona, trombone, charango, viola, xylophone, etc., which they adopted while on a semester abroad in Bolivia while studying at (surprise!) Duke University.  Supposedly inspired by that country’s traditional instrumental music, Bombadil’s recent 2008 release A Buzz, A Buzz, also finds its roots in American folk and Appalacian music. 

The concept behind the band might sound like it came together at 2 A.M. at Cosmic Cantina after a long night of theoretical physics, but Bombadil’s music is not as easily dismissed (even if it may occasionally sound like it’s being played by hobbits).  It’s easy, upon first listen, to be put off by bands that are so unusual; if you see Bombadil live, thier fedora hats, plaid pants and suspenders will only further your distance.  But there is a lot about Bombadil to like, even if you find yourself initially unimpressed.

Bombadil, like Belle and Sebastian (also named after fictional characters), dress up adult matters in children’s costumes.  Songs that seem frivolous musically are belied by their lyrical depth.  Whether the songs’ subjects are as gargantuan as horsemen riding into combat (“Cavaliers Har Hum”), or as pitiful as a boy who cuts himself in memory of his long lost beloved (“Johnny”), they remain wrapped in musical nursery-rhyme.  The resulting portraits are unsympathetic and grotesque, rejecting any emotional connection from the listener.  Occasionally the band finds words to fit their musical nostalgia but rarely match its impact, as on opener “Trip Out West.”  Other times the band falls prey to indie rock cliches like writing songs about forgotten historical subjects (“Julian of Norwich”).  Where like-minded indie-rock professors like Colin Meloy or Stephen Malkmus might have found a contemporary parallel to justify scouring the history books, Bombadil seem to sing for Julian alone, which is entertaining and educational, if ultimately unaffecting.

The bizarro folk-rock approach has worked on rare occasions, whether blended into so many other influences as to sound familiar a la Vampire Weeked, or through force of personality alone, as Gogol Bordello have proven.  A Buzz, A Buzz rewards repeated listening, but I would think if they were to find any wider audience than they currently merit, they’d need to go one of those aforementioned routes.  But betting on the success of bands in the current indie climate of consume and discard is a mug’s game, and if these fellas have found something they enjoy then I wish them luck.

Label: Ramseur Records

Release Date: Apr 29, 2008

Track Listing:

  1. Trip Out West 1:39
  2. Julian of Norwich 2:42 
  3. Smile When You Kiss 2:58 
  4. Rosetta Stone 3:47 
  5. Three Saddest Words 2:58 
  6. Buzz A Buzz 5:13 $0.99 
  7. One Two Three 3:06 $0.99 
  8. Cavaliers Har Hum 2:42 
  9. Caterpillar Tree (for old time’s sake) 3:08
  10. Johnny 2:50 
  11. Get to Getting’ On 2:10

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