Folk rock isnt what it used to be. What was it? Basically, rock n' roll that rocked a little less and thought a little more. It was rooted in the folk revival of the late 50s and early 60s (which fed off the blues and its bastard cousin, country), the same populist spirit only with chiming electric guitars, drums, and other instruments thought to be heretical by purists. Of course, the 60s were the heyday of folk rock: Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, you name it. Then someone figured out he could be fast, loud, and smart simultaneously, and the reason for folk rock basically died. There have been exceptions over the years, bands like 10,000 Maniacs and Cowboy Junkies, but theyve tempered their folkiness with arty and sometimes commercial aspirations.
Enter the Scoldees. Their debut album, My Pathetic Life, has many of the attributes of good old-fashioned folk-rock -- restrained but noticeable electric instrumentation; thoughtful, mid-tempo tunes; and delicate harmonies (OK, forget Bob Dylan on that one). The only thing that separates them from the old guard is that their complaints are about inner space instead of the world at large. No "Blowin In the Wind" or "Turn, Turn, Turn" here. In that respect, the Scoldees have more in common with Nirvana and the great, loud navel gazers of the 90s. In "All I Want," co-lead singer and songwriter Nancy Sirianni coos: "Do you think that I want too much / I should be happy so whats my problem / No one has everything so why should / I complain but sometimes Im lonely" over a loping melody. "My Bright Life" and "My Pathetic Life" cover similar territory -- the lack of control over ones life, "Bright" using metaphorical terms ("Take my solitude and form it into clay / The form it takes is never exactly what I want to say"), "Pathetic" going straight to the core of the issue ("Cant believe Im making music out of my pathetic life").
This isnt to suggest that My Pathetic Life is a non-stop bummer. "I Go Crazy" is a bouncy tune reminiscent of Don Henleys "Not Enough Love in the World" without the synthesizers and glossy production. "Cellophane Man," sung by co-lead singer and songwriter Jack Hoffman, has a gritty, bluesy riff, as does "Dragonfly." The jazzy "My Pathetic Life" owes much to Joni Mitchell. "Silly Girl" could be a hit for someone willing to give it the electric jolt it implies but does not deliver.
The production on My Pathetic Life is intentionally lo-fi, the arrangements uncluttered. With the exception of Ted Rydzewskis bass, the Scoldees only play acoustic instruments. They are competent if not stunning musicians, which complements the recordings. The emphasis here is on songwriting and harmonies, and musical virtuosity would only detract from them. The dirty work of providing electric punch is left to various studio musicians.
If youre looking to have your adult existential angst served on a feather bed, the Scoldees will serve ably as your waiters. If the noise inside your head cant be eased by a bunch of polite, restrained vignettes, or if you need to dance to your pain, look elsewhere.
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