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The Low Anthem

Roll up, roll up, roll up for rootsy Americana purveyors The LOW ANTHEM, a part indie-folk, part alt-country, part gospel-blues outfit led by classically-trained Brown University musicians Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky. Formed 2006 in Providence, Rhode Island, they were quick to get off the mark by way of their low-key eponymous CD, THE LOW ANTHEM (2006) {*6}.
The main pair were soon to add Jocie Adams (who replaced early member Dan Lefkowitz), her introduction coming no better than closing track `Coal Mountain Lullaby’, while the group take on a version of The CARTER FAMILY’s `Keep On The Sunny Side’.
The harmony-drenched OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN (2008) {*8} drew comparisons to FLEET FOXES and The NEVILLE BROTHERS (examples `Charlie Darwin’ and `Cage The Songbird’) or even CSN (`To Ohio’); it was no surprise that when it sold out independently, Nonesuch (US) and Bella Union (UK) came a-knocking. Together with a DYLAN-esque cover of TOM WAITS’ `Home I’ll Never Be’, Ben and Jeff’s other showpieces were `Champion Angel’ and another pump-organ-friendly `To The Ghosts Who Write History Books’.
Anticipation was rife in the couple of years leading up to Top 200 entry SMART FLESH (2011) {*7}, an album which featured newcomer/multi-instrumentalist Mat Davidson and returning producer Jesse Lauter, who set them up in a vacant sauce-making factory in Central Falls, near their new home in Block Island. New country, rather that folk-rock on the bulk of set (including openers: A.P. CARTER’s `Ghost Woman Blues’ and original `Apothecary Love’), The LOW ANTHEM chilled out for `Love And Altar’ and wigged-out NEIL YOUNG-like on `Boeing 737’.
In 2012, The LOW ANTHEM completed the soundtrack to Arcadia, disguising the fact that players Davidson and Jocie (to Arc Isis) wanted to expand their musical horizons. In came respective replacements Tyler Osborne and Florence Wallis (vocals, violin) to fulfil tour commitments, but by 2013 the line-up was fleshed out by Andy Davis (pianet) – for Mike Irwin – and Bryan Minto (space harp, guitar) in place of Tyler.
Turning up on Washington Square Records (an off-shoot of Razor & Tie), the sprawling 4-or-5-piece completed their lofty concept piece, EYELAND (2016) {*6}, from inside the dusty and echo-y walls of their newly-purchased Columbus Theatre in Providence. Transitional and almost absent of neo-traditional folk ideals, it looked, as through the kaleidoscopic poked-eyelids-nightmare of `Waved The Neon Seaweed’ and the annoying `Wzgddrmtnwrdz’, they’d lost their way in the musical departure lounge between ambition and ambience. Prystowsky and Miller drifting into a sea of cooling magma, there was hope by way of the shh-bop `Her Little Cosmos’, the lucid `The Pepsi Moon’ and the breezy `In The Air Hockey Fire’. Touring to support the set, Jeff, Ben, Florence, Bryan and members of their crew were involved in an automobile crash, which, thankfully, only damaged their instruments and gear; Jeff was in fact injured for the longest period, whilst Ben took on the responsibility of working on demos from the warmth of his own bedroom.
Early in 2018, The LOW ANTHEM’s fifth album, THE SALT DOLL WENT TO MEASURE THE DEPTH OF THE SEA {*7}, was re-constructed around the reunited members of the band; it was indeed a Buddhist fable concerning a doll made of salt; preview single, `Give My Body Back’ was its clue. Whether falsetto-honed Miller had been inspired by the soft and spiritual SUFJAN STEVENS a la “Carrie & Lowell”, there was a wistful yearning among tracks such as `River Brine’, `Toowee Toowee’, `Coral Crescent’ and the glitch-y `Cy Twombly By Campfire’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jun2016-Mar2018

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