Review: Dry the River – Shallow Bed
Simon Hiblen reviews the new album from Dry the River; the refreshingly good band on the folk scene that’s not Mumford & Sons.
At a time when the new music scene is dominated by an increasingly tiresome abundance of Mumford-esque folk-rock and semi-acoustic troubadour soloists, you might be forgiven for dismissing Dry the River as yet another band of rustically adorned twenty-somethings towing a second hand tractor over already trodden land.
You’d be wrong though.
The growth of mainstream folk, facilitated by recent Fleet Foxes/Laura Marling/Ben Howard-shaped successes, is certainly in danger of stagnating due to a lack of variation. Step forward Peter Liddle and co.; a quintet who fuse traditional folk with post-punk energy – and the tunes to match.
‘New Ceremony’ displays as much, with its acoustic opening bursting triumphantly into a raucous chorus. Several tracks build in this fashion, ‘Weights & Measures’ being one of many highlights. The resulting sense of drama is supplemented by Will Harvey on violin, but never does an orchestral addition hamper the underlying rawness of the LP. Clearly a tight unit, subtle vocal harmonies and intricate guitar melodies ensure this album is one you’ll be listening to track after track, again and again. The seamless transition of the haunting ‘Demons’ into the rousing ‘Bible Belt’ renders shuffling counter-productive; this is an album constructed as one whole, not eleven separate parts.
Lyrically, Liddle bamboozles, often deliberately. Speaking of the writing process, he recalled struggling to find a two-syllable word for a line in ‘The Chambers & The Valves’. Opening the floor to the rest of the band, who were locked in a drunken game of frisbee outside (as you do), drummer Jon Warren offered the made-up ‘frission’, which was immediately corrected and incorporated: “I was lost in the fission before you came”. Conversely, the seemingly simplistic yet beautifully pure “I loved you in the best way possible” elevates ‘No Rest’ to a euphoric zenith. Elsewhere, biblical references galore hook the songs back to their folk roots, most evident in the stripped back ‘Shaker Hymns’.
It’s not all faultless, though. The aforementioned ‘The Chambers & The Valves’ grows but does feel like a contrived attempt at a catchy single. In some places there is a hint of overproduction, palpable in comparison to earlier EP versions.
Rarely does this detract from the raw drama and purity of Shallow Bed, however, and with enchanting live performances to boot, it seems Dry the River have put themselves in good stead for life after today’s folk fad. ‘Lion’s Den’, nothing short of epic, is indicative of this.
Oh, and the bassist has an amazing beard.