Mt. Thelonious plays acoustic music on acoustic instruments, which may lead to a knee-jerk "folk" appellation before you hear the first note. It's a big enough umbrella to cover this three-piece, which flirts with a good-sized range of American music on its first full-length. Ian Lubar (vocals and guitar), Alyssa Avery (violin and vocals) and Mark Wallace (upright bass) are precise stylists, with Avery and Wallace usually showing deference to Lubar's passionate playing and full-bodied delivery.
The great thing about a band this small is that each part is so neatly prescribed -- the guitar drives the rhythm, the violin carries the melody, and the bass buoys each song with sonorous, resonant low-end. That's not as limiting as it may sound -- Lubar throws in some light flamenco pastiches in "No Disrespect," which takes the tension off of his strings from a little too much flurried strumming. That song finds Avery pulling some throaty double stops and what sounds like a pizzicato solo.
Later on the disc, Lubar shows a bit more deftness in the plucked intro to "Signs of Mine," and Wallace's upright bass adds a nice harmonic counterpoint to Avery's gentle, sawing rhythm. The formula is established in each song, but Mt. Thelonious is smart enough to subvert it in small, subtle ways. (And some not-so-subtle ways -- "Signs of Mine" turns on its head and becomes a Klezmer hoedown in its final minutes.)
The sole cover on the disc is, suitably enough, a traditional ballad. "In the Pines" has been kicked around for the better part of a century, though Gen X-ers on down probably know it best as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" as covered by Nirvana on its MTV Unplugged watershed moment. The Mt. Thelonious version walks a line between the tortured strums of a cuckolded junkie and the Appalachian strains of the fiddle line. On this self-titled LP, Mt. Thelonious proves itself apt at playing with forms of folk music without sticking to one set path.
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