The Whiskey Farm will host a CD Release Party on Saturday, September 26th. It’s an early 5:30 show at the High Noon Saloon. Ida Jo, who is also celebrating the release of her latest CD, will also appear. There will also be a pre-release event at Strictly Discs at 6:00 on Thursday, September 24. That performance will be an intimate, unplugged, acoustic affair.
Two years on from their well-received second recording From the Still, the Whiskey Farm return with Book of Matches, another winsome concoction of folk and bluegrass tunes spiced up with country and rock flavorings. The interval of the last two years saw original bassist Clark Stacer depart with Mike Steen joining up with the rest of the band: Jason Horowitz (guitar, vocals, mandolin, piano, harmonica), Brett Wilfrid (guitars, vocals,mandolin, banjo), Chantelle Thomas (vocals) and Matt Brown (drums).
From the Still led off in style with “The Boys of Forrest Hill,” a folk song dedicated to Madison’s historic Forrest Hill Cemetery and the civil war casualties who lie there. Book of Matches leads off in a similar vein with “Doc Holiday’s Last Christmas,” another cleverly-worded bit of historical storytelling, a medium in which Horowitz excels. Lyrics are Horowitz’s strong suit; there are few words wasted throughout, the songs flowing like poetry. The band doesn’t stray from their by-now-established formula and why would they? It’s clear that the Whiskey Farm are about as authentic as a musical group can be; the music is a clear reflection of who they are and that is a rare accomplishment. Like an old friend, you don’t want them to change, you just look forward to seeing them again.
There is good reason the Whiskey Farm picked up a Madison Area Music Award for Ensemble Vocals in 2013, the harmonic blend is sensational. Check out the almost Phish-y vibe of “Let Go” to get a taste of what great harmonizing can be. Credit backup vocalist Chantelle Thomas in large part, her voice blends beautifully with Horowitz’s while Wilfrid chimes in to make it three-part. Her sweet and soulful voice occasionally takes the lead while the acoustic guitar and mandolin accompaniment will have you swaying on your feet as well as in your head.
“Let Go” was co-authored by the departed bassist Stacer as well as one other, album-closer “Long, Long Year,” a song of loss and longing with Horowitz and Thomas trading vocal lines. Steen’s bowed bass is most effective, adding appropriate gravity to an intensely beautiful composition. Guest artist Ken Leiser adds sweet violin to this one. Leiser can also be heard on the Wilfrid tune “On Your Feet,” a joyful bluegrass-inspired romp with artfully furious bowing.
Shades of cynicism pop up in “What if I Don’t,” a biting take on shunning the system and breaking free of the preconceived notions of living the American way. Quite reminiscent of early Dylan and every bit as masterful lyrically.
Credit needs to be given to Blast House Studios and Landon Arkens. The mix is sublime; the vocals and instruments are perfectly conjoined, once again demonstrating Arkens’ knack for zeroing in on what makes a good band tick. There’s never a moment when the vocals feel separated or dubbed, the end experience sounding organically pure.
Book of Matches is another fine recording and the Whiskey Farm exemplify the Midwestern ethos. Madison has such a broad range of excellent musical acts across many genres and the Whiskey Farm are cementing a place of their own in the folk/rock idiom. “We knew that nothing lasts forever / But thought as long as we were together / Every door in this world would open wide,” Horowitz sings in “If You See Him.” All great local acts are an open door. Enjoy this one while you can.