There are two distinct paths for string bands. Some stay within the niche, usually adopting bluegrass influences, and do well with their specialized brand of folk music. Through the years, the Steep Canyon Rangers have stayed with their tried and true sound and have made a collection of fine albums. Others expand, both literally and figuratively. I’m reasonably sure the The Avett Brothers have an additional touring member every time I catch one of their concerts. The challenge on both paths is making something with a compelling twist yet remaining true to the energy that got you those first critical fans. On their latest album, Good At Losing Everything, The Ghost of Paul Revere embrace a bolder sound without losing the authentic folk flavor that we’ve all come to expect from the band.
There is a noticeable flow to the album. Each track plays into the next. Unlike the current trend of releasing 10 singles as “record,” you can tell that intent went into the construction of Good At Losing Everything. It’s meant to be enjoyed as a complete thought—perhaps as a long-distance listening party in these crazy times.
There’s also a distinct flow within each song. There’s always a current, sometimes a raging river of emotion, sometimes a bubbling brook of banjo melodies, and most often a steady stream of clap-along-worthy folk rhythms.
Good At Losing Everything kicks off with quick-hitting energy to catch your attention. The title track hits you with a bold drumbeat, a ripple of banjo, and sing-along enticing lyrics. It has that anthemic feel that endeared us to the breakthrough songs of The Strumbellas. Two tracks later, we get the album’s lead single, “Love At Your Own Convenience.” Featuring raw, forcefully sung vocals, you feel like you’re watching the emotions of a breakup happen in real time. Filed with cinematic piano and electric guitar, there is an aura of fury as the lyric, “I told you/I’m angry/and I ain’t coming back,” is repeated. However, embracing our human tendencies of conflicted emotions, the song ends with gentler acoustic guitar, as the lyrics change to, “I told you/I love you/and I ain’t coming back.” You feel the passion in the singer’s heart change to a chant, as if he’s struggling to maintain resolve. It’s these types of nuances that give the album depth.
While most of the record is a blend of folk, string band, and just good ol’ Americana, the band takes a few daring artistic leaps. Two stand out as being both completely different and for how well they were pulled off. “Travel On” is southern rock with a strong infusion of folk-funk. Later, “Dirigo” is a country-western crooner that gets a jolt of rock n’ roll ballad in the mix. In the vein of Roy Orbison, or more recently Orville Peck, resonating vocals make the minimal sound dramatic.
On Good at Losing Everything, The Ghost of Paul Revere clearly challenged the boundaries of how we expected them to sound. The album shows they are ready to take on all comers across the entirety of the diverse world of Americana. There’s still that vintage feel that wraps you in the blanket of tradition, but a modern evolution that encompasses so many of the sounds we love.