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The Decemberists - Long Live the King CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.94 | 9 ratings

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4 stars Of course Colin Meloy would follow up a record titled 'The King is Dead' with one titled 'Long Live the King'. Although this isn't a new studio album proper, but rather a small EP- sized collection of b-sides and songs recorded around the time of the 'King is Dead' CD and released after the band wrapped up their supporting tour and has embarked on a long hiatus while Meloy pursues a writing career and the other members wander off to work on projects of their own.

These songs are even more Americana and stark than 'The King is Dead', consisting almost entirely of acoustic instrumentation and simple vocals and without the sorely- missed keyboards and energy of Jenny Conlee as she recovers from cancer (best wishes Jenny!). R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Gillian Welch, guests on 'King' are gone here but Laura Veirs and Annalisa Tornfelt, folk-rockers in their own rights provide the requisite understated female backing vocals that have become such a key part of every Decemberists album.

The songs are pretty unassuming, but the key elements of the Decemberists sound come through clearly: Meloy's slightly whiney but endearing vocals and energetic 12-string guitar work; Chris Funk's guitar playing that belies a life spent bouncing between Black Sabbath and Neil Young records; Nate Query's cocky bass; and John Moen's beguilingly simple percussion. And of course those backing vocals helping Meloy weave tales of the weird folk and the depravity that are our heritage.

"E. Watson" is a loosely woven tale apparently taken from Peter Matthiessen's 'Shadow Country' trilogy that combines Meloy's penchant for biographies of seedy characters and the band's newfound appreciation for acoustic folk-rock with heavy country influences. It sets the mood for the entire EP although the band does kick things up to a bit more of a rocking vibe at times. "Foregone" opens with a great combination of Meloy's acoustic guitar and Funk's steel guitar that recalls country-rock greats of our youth like the Marshall Tucker Band, Bellamy Brothers and maybe even a little Poco. I say "ours" because Meloy grew up in northwestern Montana just like I did, and it's obvious to my when listening to these songs that he spun records from those guys at some point in his formative years.

On the other hand "Burying Davy" is something of a throwback to the earlier Decemberists days, chortling out the tale of a scoundrel to the sounds of wicked guitar riffs and a dirge of a rhythm in the vein of "When the War Came", "Shankill Butchers" and "The Infanta". The lyrics here are simple but the band still manages to evoke that dark yet nostalgic mood so much of the Decemberists catalog is imbued with.

"I 4 U & U 4 Me" is a demo cut that is cleaned up pretty well for inclusion here and gives a nice view of the band's keen sense of melody and rhythm and seemingly effortless ability to stick the two together into something toe-tappingly appealing.

The band has performed the Grateful Dead standard "Row Jimmy" live before and included it as the b-side of a seven inch single from 'The King is Dead' so its inclusion here isn't much of a surprise. In fact, the only surprise is that the band hasn't mastered more Dead material given the ease with which they plunk this one out, sounding all the world like a slightly more urban and Northern version of a young Allman Brothers with a little unplugged Bad Company mixed in. Granted, this is the sort of music that will mostly appeal to Americans, but anyone who counts the Decemberists as a favorite band has to appreciate this respectful yet independent approach to the song.

And with the closing "Sonnet" Meloy offers up another "Grace Cathedral Hill" or "Odalisque" indie ballad that will undoubtedly be performed many times in future concerts, assuming the band ever goes back on the road again.

I truly hope this is not the last we hear of the Decemberists, but am glad the band saw to it that loyal fans were rewarded with one more taste of the sounds that helped form some of our best memories of the past decade. If you are even remotely curious about this band I strongly recommend you pick up their 'A Practical Handbook' DVD and then ease your way toward this final EP, picking your way through everything they've done to this point and giving yourself the pleasure of a band that made an awful lot of people happy during their too-brief tenure. A solid four stars and very highly recommended.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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