From what I’ve realized, if you don’t live in or near Seattle, you haven’t been exposed to the significant hype over indie-folk sextet The Head and the Heart. Well, to fill you in on what you’ve missed, this group was one of the biggest deals in the Emerald City in 2010, and are now only a bigger deal since they signed to the Sub Pop label in early January.
Formed in 2009, the band has made a quick rise to the scene, releasing its self-titled debut album in June 2010. Since joining Sub Pop, that album has been re-released for digital sales, and is scheduled to be available on CD and vinyl on April 16.
If you love folk music (and since you’re reading RFC, you probably do) The Head and the Heart may be right up your alley. The album carries on with sunny Americana sounds that occasionally merge onto pop or alt-country back roads. Led by guitarists/vocalists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, the band is made complete with bassist Chris Zasche, pianist Kenny Hensley, violinist Charity Thielen and drummer Tyler Williams. The male vocals layer like carbon paper while Thielen textures the harmonies with her own throaty notes.
It’s a common issue, that heads and hearts don’t tend to agree, so I’m almost inclined to call the group a misnomer. Of all 10 songs on their record, there’s not a conflict to be found. Every musical element threads together like straw into gold. It’s probably not appropriate to call it “easy listening,” but it sure is easy to listen to.
The album opens with “Cats and Dogs” (its shortest song at just under two minutes), introducing the band’s affection for percussion and padded with supple drum thuds. “Coeur d’Alene” pulls up behind it as though hitched to the rear, the final piano chord of “Cats and Dogs” blending finely with the first of its successor. Clocking in at 5 minutes and 40 seconds (the album’s longest song), “Heaven Go Easy on Me” closes the set, rivaling the Moondoggies for Seattle’s current best vocal stack.
The Head and the Heart doesn’t break any new ground with its debut, but holds its own within an already beloved genre. Folk music needn’t stray too far from its own neighborhood to reach the whole community. All it takes is strong songwriting, which the band displays throughout the album. “Rivers and Roads” sits as its centerpiece, a soft acoustic piece that swells magnificently into a billowing compound of all its parts. All 10 tunes are good enough to stick with you for a while, but “Ghosts” is the one that’s left the most residue on my eardrums. Maybe I am a sucker for some rollicking saloon piano, but it’s just a damn fine song with solid energy. “One day we’ll all be ghosts,” sing the voices, “tripping around in someone else’s home.”
Overall, The Head and the Heart is an album about changing, including the past we leave behind and the future to which we look forward, not to mention how one feels from point A to point B. As if they weren’t already speaking the universal language of folk, their lyrics have nearly limitless application. If you’ve ever left someone or something behind, if you’ve ever found yourself in places and situations you’ve never been before, or if you think you ever will, the Head and the Heart is singing for you.