Big Tribe - In This Together
Many bands, having experienced even a modicum of success with their first release, wisely opt to follow the path of least resistance with its follow up. These are bands with primarily commercial concerns – they want radio play, they want songs that seamlessly translate to the stage, and they want their follow ups to sound as much like the first album as possible. Big Tribe is not one of these bands. Their debut From the Fringes announced the arrival of Peter Panyon as a songwriter, but the second effort finds Big Tribe building on the accomplishments of their first collection rather than merely trying to replicate it. In This Together has a dozen numbers that cut across a wide swath of musical styles, but never in an ostentatious way that calls attention to itself. These are rock solid compositions and even the looser moments have the feel of a band who naturally play with confidence and a talent for simply letting the songs flow through them rather than laboring over both the writing and performance to such an extent that all of the life and verve are drained from their efforts.
Big Tribe’s In This Together begins with “Martha”. The lonesome train whistle starting off the song might suggest listeners are going to hear a convincing blast of Americana but that quality is confined to Paynon’s lyrics. The storytelling aspects of this song make the lyrics a must hear and it’s paired quite well with an arrangement that sounds like biting folk rock. “All in This Together” has a straight-ahead, no frills instrumental attack that fits remarkably well with Panyon’s unique vocals. The drumming, in particular, reaches out and grabs listeners with its physicality. “The Final Boat Out”, however, pulls the album back towards a much rockier tilt while still never veering too far from its singer/songwriter heart. Panyon’s vocal on this track is more relaxed, more natural sounding, than the opener and the lyrical content is quite as enigmatic. There’s a woozy, late night blues feel to “I Want To Be With You” that has an unusual side thanks to the inclusion of violin. Panyon and second vocalist Bonnie Eyler tackle this tune together to marvelous effect.
Eyler, however, is the whole show on the song “How the Mind Wanders”. Unlike songs like the opener and “The Final Boat Out”, this reaches the level of performed poetry without indulging in any of the verbal and symbolic play heard in those two tracks. Instead, unvarnished and eloquent honesty is the order of the day here and Eyler’s vulnerability practically throbs through each verse. There’s no vulnerability at all, however, on the next track “You Lied”. This is the album’s zenith for guitar work, but it never gets heavy-footed and allows Eyler the chance to command the audience’s attention with her searing vocal. “Just a Boy” is another moment of great vulnerability on the album, but Paynon and Eyler share much more of the vocal duties here than on the earlier “How the Mind Wanders” and it gives the song a different character while still championing the same melodic strengths. If you appreciate musical clarity and a little daring to spice up your traditional loves, Big Tribe will not disappoint. In This Together sparks with creativity and imagination from the first song and never loses that fire throughout.
9 out of 10 stars.