Black River Revue: Spring Thaw

Paul Whyte

It’s been nearly a year since the release of Black River Revue’s debut album, “Garbage Pickin.” The band has continued playing regularly in the area and has developed a little bit of a fan base. The current line up of the full band includes Adam Stariha (guitar, vocals and harmonica), Nate Hynum (mandolin), Ian Kvale (bass), Kailyn Spencer (fiddle), Joe Berg (spoons and washboard) and Timmy Leutgeb (banjo). The whole band takes on back up vocals in parts. Overall, the group is a well put together string band and this is displayed in their live performances as well as on their new album titled “Spring Thaw.”
This album came out just in time for the weather to change from brutal and nasty to pretty nice. One thing that I’ve noticed about a lot of groups and artists that lean towards folk/Americana/bluegrass is that summer and winter albums often differ in feel. This album stays upbeat for the most part and the first two tracks really make that impression as a summer album.
The album opens with the track “Spring Thaw” and the instruments immediately capture the hopefulness of warmer months. “Stepping out of that deep dark galley/let the sunlight grace upon your head,” goes a part of a verse.
The next track, “Minnesota Jubilee” is one of the more entertaining tracks on the album. It has the feel of a hoedown with the bounce of the bass matched with the quick fiddle and banjo parts. The characters described at this “jubilee” are colorful and perhaps a bit dysfunctional, but one thing is clear is that they are having a fun time in this light hearted song that makes references to other bands like Pert Near Sand Stone and also utters the extremely controversial phrase in Minnesota, “Go Pack Go!”
On the track, “North Country Sky,” I got torn between the lyrics that are working in the song such as some of the imagery and some of the cliche rhymes that start out the verses. There are decent parts in the lyrics but rhyming “baby, crazy, daily and lazy,” seemed to detract from it a bit.
The track “She’s All Mine” is an instrumental and I’ve always felt that instrumentals can be a risky move on an album but in this case the group really gets to show what they have as far as their abilities as a string band. The song is festive and has an old time feel, as much of the album does, and it moves around enough highlighting certain instruments so it stays interesting.   
The musicianship and string arrangements on this album are great. Stariha’s guitar holds down the rhythm and the washboard stays pretty subtle in contrast to things like the mandolin and the fiddle that are adding constant melodic depth to the songs. One member who really deserves some credit is Ian Kvale’s bass lines. On the track, “Without A Warning,” the ascending bass line that breaks away into playfully bouncing all around the fret board really ties the song together.
A song that brings out some decent lyrics and Stariha’s vocals is the song, “Spare Change.” “Should I leave my job? Leave my home? The one I love? The road alone/leave it all/that I know/summer in your eyes/hair covered in snow,” goes the chorus. Lyrically, the album has its moments. There’s quite the contrast between “Minnesota Jubilee” and this tune which is heavier and less happy by far. In that sense there is some depth and balance in the album. The instruments end up outshining the lyrics at times and for a second album I was hoping for something a little more hard hitting although it’s well done as a whole.
Stariha has a soft voice with just a little rasp in it. While he probably wouldn’t do so well covering Iron Maiden, his vocals are fitting for this genre of music. One thing that I did note in certain parts is a kind of forced country drawl here and there.
This album will be easily accessible to people who already like Black River Revue and string band styles of music such as bluegrass. “Spring Thaw” explores around a little bit with songs that get a little funky and others that exemplify a more traditional feel of the genre. While the band as a whole is very tight and instrumentally I found the album to be terrific, it makes me wonder where the group can go from here. Bands such as Trampled by Turtles played faster to the point where their sound borders on punk in certain songs but they also threw in more laid back songs. There’s nothing exactly wrong with sticking to a genre but then it comes down to how to continue making a memorable listening experience and stand out somehow.