On one hand, Kalamazoo, Michigan duo Red Tail Ring play music that’s rustic and old-fashioned, sometimes ancient-sounding. On the other, just like the folksingers of centuries past, they’re taking old sounds to new places. Fiddler/banjoist Laurel Premo is the more traditional of the two, guitarist Michael Beauchamp bringing the occasional hint of indie rock to his tastefully eclectic playing. Their original songs display a deep immersion in an oldtime vernacular, both musically and lyrically, with tasteful songcraft, tight vocal harmonies, solid playing and evocative narratives. Their music is warm, friendly and convivial, in the spirit of its influences. They’re winding up their current US tour with an 11 PM show at the small room at the Rockwood on March 31.
Premo evokes both the elegant, understatedly sophisticated phrasing of Laura Cantrell as well as the newschool folk of Della Mae on Ohio Turnpike, the uneasy nocturnal travelogue that opens the duo’s album The Heart’s Swift Foot, streaming at Spotify. Beauchamp sings the similarly pensive Katy Came Breezing, Premo’s fiddle adding a hypnotic ambience. Dirt Triangle, also sung by Beauchamp, brings a vacant city lot to life, imagining both its colorful past and an optimistic future when the citizens who claim the title to it decide that “this town’s worth more than cash.” Premo follows that with the album’s practically medieval, otherworldly title track. Then the two join forces for the foot-tapping fiddle/banjo reel In the Broom Straw.
Queen of the West & Other Stories is not the Laura Cantrell hit, but a dobro-fueled chronicle of personalities who’ve passed through Beauchamp’s narrator’s up-and-down life; it’s a Studs Terkel tale of sorts transposed to the Great Plains. Premo’s nature imagery on the wistful waltz A Clearing in the Wild portays an emotionally charged relationship hanging in the balance, while Suffer Every Soul reverts to an ancient Britfolk banjo ambience.
Beauchamp follows that with the goodnatured love ballad Body Like a Bell, then the sepulchrally atmospheric, minimalist St. James Hospital, which sounds like a sketch for St. James Infirmary: in this particular instance, Beauchamp makes it a cowboy song. The album ends up with a gently resonant waltz and then My Heart’s Own Love, which adds a touch of indie ambiguity amidst the warmly rustic country chords and harmonies.