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August 17th, 2005 JEFF ROSENBERG | Music Stories
 

THE ORIGINAL UNORIGINALS

Foghorn Stringband makes it to the top of the old-time pile by sticking to tradition.

     
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Foghorn Stringband
The title of Foghorn Stringband's new release, Weiser Sunrise, celebrates the band's origin at the 2001 National Fiddle Championships in Weiser (pronounced like the nerd-rock group), Idaho, and shares its name with a cocktail born at the same time and place. (For you amateur mixologists, that's two shots of Jim Beam and one can of Red Bull, over ice if available.)

But make no mistake: It was Portland that stirred these players together, as the cover graphics emphatically indicate with an arrow pointing right to our corner of the U.S. and a liner-note illustration tracing the Foghorn five's paths to Oregon.

Foghorn Stringband, of course, is the flagship band of Stumptown's vigorous old-time music revival, holding forth at the Moon & Sixpence almost every Sunday night for the past few years, presiding over countless square dances and festivals, and touring from Corvallis to Borneo (literally). So it's fitting that they're the first of this local breed whose tunes will reach the racks of record stores around the world. Their new "major-minor" label, Nettwerk, is home to mainstream phenoms Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, as well as rising alt-folk stars Be Good Tanyas and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Despite that newfound potential for market penetration, though, Foghorn's making absolutely no concessions to commercialism. There's continuity on the new disc with the boys' prior, homegrown releases; for instance, they still recorded completely live, circled around the mics ("We just used four mics instead of two," bassist Brian Bagdonas says of the new album's leap in recording technology), they still pay homage to each arrangement's original influence in the liner notes, and there's still no premium put on vocal numbers. It's a courageous choice to wait until four songs in for a proper vocal; the album's first and third songs are instrumentals, and the second, a rip through "Stagger Lee," is more about the band's furious picking, as they race through the lyrics like an old joke they've all heard before. When they finally do air their harmonies, it's like the sun coming out. Then it's straight back to Picksville.

And don't look for Foghorn to bolster its playlist with any original numbers anytime soon, either. Though the band's new labelmate O.C.M.S. won wide exposure in part due to its trad-sounding, self-penned tunes, singer-songwriter-on-the-side Caleb Klauder says he doesn't see that as part of the Foghorn formula. "This band is just about traditional music to me," he shrugs. And banjoist Taylor Grover agrees that original songs aren't necessary for the group to sound original. "In this day and age, if you simply play traditional music in a traditional manner, that's novel as hell."


Foghorn Stringband plays Wednesday, Aug. 17, at Music Millennium-Northwest. 7 pm. Free. All ages. Also Sunday, Aug. 21, at Moon & Sixpence. 8 pm. Free. 21+.

Weiser Sunrise is Foghorn Stringband's third proper release and first on Nettwerk Records. It is now available everywhere, really.

 
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