I am always happily surprised when I am treated to some really great music that I least expected. This was the case when I had the opportunity to hear the group The Novelists.
We went on the Portland Spirit “Friday Early Escape Cruise”… we booked this date because the weather was looking like it would be nice (rather unpredictable forecasting up here in the Great NW). Anyway, as we looked at the dates and lists of acts, I noted that a four piece instrumental group would be playing this day and I thought it might be nice in a “string ensemble” kind of way.
We boarded and promptly got a table on the the top deck where the band was setting up and I was pleased to see an upright bass among the instruments. At that moment,
I suspected that we might be in for an interesting performance.
The Novelists is a Reno based lyrical rock band that blends four part vocal harmonies with a kind of “Pop/ Folk” instrumental approach.
- Joel Ackerson – vocals, guitar, mandolin
- Megan Slankard – vocals guitar, mandolin
- Eric Andersen – vocals, piano
- Zach Teran – vocals, bass
The live performance was a carefully calculated mixture of popular, easily recognizable tunes done in the band’s own style, along with some of their own compositions. They have solid vocal quality that blends well harmonically and are such solid musicians that I found the group to be impressive enough that I purchased one of their CD’s.
Let’s have a look at “Backstory”…
“Planets” was written by Megan and she carries the lead vocal part. The song opens with acoustic guitar and is promptly joined by the bass and piano. The others join in to add vocals to the chorus. I find this tune to have just the right balance of instruments-to-vocals, even though they don’t have percussion. Well composed lyrics are the frosting on the cake.
“Soul Sucker” is one of Eric’s compositions and the title gives you an idea what the song is about. The piano opens and the bass adds the perfect support for the mandolin, guitar and vocals to build upon. I really like that the balance of this recording as it lets you enjoy all the musical elements clearly.
“On My Side” is Joel’s composition and takes a more slow, romantic route. Opening with a single voice and mandolin is simple and beautiful. Zach uses both his Arco with Pizzicato selectively in this piece and this approach gives this tune nice depth and dimension. Really good lyrics round this tune out.
“Give life” opens with a dissonant, grating sound from the bass and as the mandolin and guitar join in, the lyrics make clear the dramatic scope of this tune. There is a nice use of the unusual quintuple (5/4) time in this piece that lends to further accentuate the impact of the message from Megan.
“Blue Green” has this really nice four-chord progression that works superbly. A simple piano line opens with Eric’s voice. The tune grows with the harmonies and additional instruments and there is a vocal “layering” effect that I really like. Sheer beauty in simplicity.
“Remember You Well” sounds like a piece you might find in a Broadway play like “Rent”… all the elements are there, maybe the rest of a score will follow.
I am glad I could share some of what this very talented, up-and-coming band has to offer. There are tight arrangements with precise instrumental execution (really superb bass work), sweet harmonies, meaningful lyrics and a ‘real life’ sentiment that we all can relate to.
Catch The Novelists live if they are near you, as they are currently touring and check out this CD! By the way, their rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” was so good I would really like to hear it again… maybe a studio version?
Find out more about The Novelists at thenovelists.com