With all of it’s traditional influences ranging from American folk music to blues, Revelations by Old Saw still has a contemporary feel to it. Upon listening to it a few times I think I figured out why. The songs often have more modern songwriting structures, such as a doo-wop (Nothing I Can Do), soul (Carry On) and a touch of the American Songbook throughout. None of the songs retain the feel of any of these genres—to the extent that I doubt it was a conscious decision—but they give the album an accesability that more straightforward American folk recordings sometimes lack.
While the mixture of styles make for interesting arrangements they are overshadowed first by the strong songwriting and ultimately by the performance. As I understand it Old Saw started as a vehicle for Nickie Farr’s songs which make up most of the album. Nickie’s husband Charlie became her collaborator and co-wrote two of the songs on Revelations as well as having the sole songwriting credit on the song “Tremble.” The group has performed live with a varying line-up before and since releasing this album which may have contributed to the sense of variety when arranging the songs during the recording process (although most of the instruments and vocals were recorded by the Farrs themselves, with a handful of guests).
One of the most noticable elements of Revelations is Nickie Farr’s vocal performance. At times dramatic and boisterous without going over the top, at times sensitive and sutble while remaining audible, her skill as a performer shines throughout the record. It’s accompanied by instrumentation that’s always appropriate, from sutble banjo picking to Charlie’s emotional guitar solos. One of the best examples of all of these elements is the song “Nothing I Can Do” which also includes an almost-haunting bassline by Jon Wilkins. Personally, I would be interested in hearing the song with a full string section but as it is it doesn’t feel like it lacks anything.
If I had to nitpick I think the reverb levels are a bit mismatched between instruments at times throughout the album. But it isn’t distracting; I only noticed that when listening closely for this review. While I’m bringing this to a personal level I’m also going to admit (probably to nobody’s surprise) that the folk stylings of some of the songs aren’t my cup of tea. But I can appreciate a well-crafted piece of work. Revelations fits that description.
Links for buying CDs and downloads can be found on the band’s web site. It doesn’t look like the site has been updated in a while but their Facebook page is regularly with news, so if you’re in the Seacoast area and want to catch them live your best bet is to follow them there.