Portland, Oregon gets a bad rap, just like Brooklyn. A lot has to do with that stupid tv show – come to think of it, the same could be said for Brooklyn. Both towns have been blighted by gentrification, yet despite that, both have Americana scenes which arguably produce the most vital music coming out of either place. One of Portland’s finest exports, Foghorn Stringband, hits New York on their current US tour, with a show at the Jalopy this Friday at 9 PM on a killer twinbill with the brilliantly guitar-fueled, increasingly oldschool soul-oriented Miss Tess & the Talkbacks headlining at 10. Cover is ten bucks. Then Foghorn Stringband return to town on the 24th at 11 PM for a pass-the-hat show at the small room at the Rockwood, another good segue since acoustic Americana maven Michael Daves is playing his weekly Tuesday night slot beforehand at 10.
Foghorn Stringband also have a new album, Devil in the Seat, streaming at Spotify. This one’s quite a change from their usual barn-burning romps: it’s a little heavier on reinvented versions of old classics than originals, and it’s a lot more low-key, although the musicianship is as invigorating as ever. As usual, they don’t skimp on quantity, with a total of sixteen songs. They also keep it stylistically diverse, from the brisk, roughhewn stroll of the old folk tune Stillhouse, through the rustic, autumnal closing number, Chadwell’s Station, gently spiced by mandolinist Caleb Klauder and fiddler Sammy Lind.
In between, the band looks back to Alice Gerrard for their Appalachian gothic take of Mining Camp Blues, guitarist Reeb Willms and bassist Nadine Landry joining forces on vocal harmonies with a keening intensity. They do the same later on with the old British folk song What Will We Do. Likewise, the stark version of Columbus Stockade Blues sounds like something that influenced Bill Monroe, not the other way around: all that’s missing is the scratches and pops of an old 78. And the matter-of-fact takes of the old outlaw ballad John Hardy and the soaring waltz Henry Lee benefit especially from the band’s old-fashioned recording style, standing round a central mic instead of miking instruments and vocals individually.
Lind gets to dip and sway elegantly while his bandmates give him plenty of space on the old Clyde Davenport fiddle tune, Lost Gal. The most striking song on the album is arguably its slowest, the absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet Leland’s Waltz. There’s also a handful of lively reels; a stark detour into oldtime country gospel; a pensive take of the old Appalachian tune Pretty Polly; a mashup of Celtic folk and newgrass; and a wryly lickety-split cover of Hank Snow’s 90 Miles an Hour.