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The Lumineers

Indie-folk has sprouted further “roots” since the success of Brit band, MUMFORD & SONS, and it seems the craze for an acoustic heaven has expanded – via several similar heartland rock acts – back over the seas to the States.
Americanapolitan, but based in Denver, Colorado (via Ramsey, NJ and Brooklyn, NY), Messrs Wesley Schultz (vocals/guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums/percussion) got together in 2005, a few after Jeremiah’s brother, Josh, also a friend of Wesley, died of a drug overdose. A sideline to their other activities, the pair plodded along for a few years, until, that is, the arrival in 2009 of Neyla Pekarek, a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist who’d answered an ad in Craiglist to be their cellist. The LUMINEERS were now properly up and running, and the trio marked this with the release of a digital demo CD and, few years later, a “Daytrotter” session EP in 2011. It was around this time that a 4th member, mandolin player/guitarist Maxwell Hughes, was added to the fold, albeit briefly before he departed.
Whether it was down to a gig at the 100-seater Meadowlark in Denver or, more likely, their video of `Ho Hey’ on a viral YouTube video, they were spotted by manager Christen Greene and David Meinert, who, in turn, set up time in a Seattle studio to work on a full set of songs. Impressed by the social media buzz and the airplay for the yet-to-be-released `Ho Hey’ track, Dualtone signed the multi-instrumentalist and duly released their self-titled debut, THE LUMINEERS {*8} the following spring. 2012 was indeed a momentous year for trio, as both the album and the `Ho Hey’ single slowly but surely climbed into the Top 3, while on a global front, the group’s commercial appeal was spreading fast; in the UK for instance, a TV ad for Bing web search engine and another one for E.On energy, sparked spiralling Top 10 sales returns for the aforementioned discs.
The album itself was a delightful set of just under a dozen flighty folk songs, reminiscent of The WATERBOYS, DYLAN and another Brit-band one dares not to mention twice. From the uplifting and hopeful to the sad and mournful, songs that shine out were `Stubborn Love’ (a minor US hit), `Submarines’, `Dead Sea’, `Slow It Down’, encore piece `Morning Song’, and of course… all together now: “I belong to you, you belong to me… Ho Hey”. While they’ve added pianist Stelth Ulvang (who played his part on the album) and bassist Ben Wahamaki in the interim period, the album and single were still riding high in the charts over a year on.
A lawsuit by part-time musician Jay Van Dyke was lodged in 2014 and therefore held up that difficult second album; Schultz, Fraites and Co would deny his claims as co-author of nine songs. Wahamaki making way for bassist Byron Isaacs as the release of CLEOPATRA (2016) {*7} approached, The LUMINEERS contingent dispensed with the tap-footing of `Ho Hey’, for a brooding, melancholy, stripped-back sobriety on several pieces from their transatlantic chart-topper. But for the piano-led `Ophelia’, the infectious `Angela’ and the kinetic title track, sing-a-longs would be sparing among the plaintive `Sleep On The Floor’ (very EAGLES-meets-The BAND), `In The Light’ and the rest of the second half.
Despite the odd download EP and a promo (`Nightshade’) for the “Game Of Thrones” TV series, it was all quiet on the western front, until spring 2019, when the literate LUMINEERS bounced back with `Gloria’, an upbeat ditty about an alcoholic girlfriend. There was then much anticipation running up to their double-entendre third set: III {*7}, released as it was into the Top 3 (and UK Top 10) mid September. A little ambitious in its three-part song-cycle chapters (“Gloria Sparks”, “Junior Sparks” and “Jimmy Sparks” respectively), the ruminative band sketched out several searching songs of life’s trials and tribulations. And with the BILLY JOEL-ish `Donna’ and the soaring `Life In The City’, the “Gloria” segments were truly profound. It was fair to say there was no `Ho Hey’, but in the field recording-like country-folk of download singles, `It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You’ and `Leader Of The Landslide’ (plus a bonus cover of LEONARD COHEN’s `Democracy’), subtle songwriters Schultz and Fraites had served up something special.
© MC Strong/MCS May2013-Sep2019

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