Spurred by a submission by one of the bands siblings of a couple of live videos I was desperate to hear Vancouver’s The River and the Road’s self titled debut. I contacted them, and waited. Having to wait while they were putting together the record I played this video again and again. And a month or two later, I had in hand, a full copy of their self titled debut album. Finally. The River and The Road are a two piece Vancouver based Folk Americana act comprised of Banjo player Keenan Lawlor and Guitarist Andrew Phelan. What is surprising is the lack of time at cutting their teeth. The River and the Road have only been a band going on 6 months, yet this record plants them firmly as a band that knows exactly where they want to go, and what they want to do.
Their music is clean, folk / rock , that jangles, plods and dances itself through well written songs of love, loss and everything in between. Their heart on the sleeve style would hint at wide eyed optimism, but even their songs that deal with melancholy feel glass half full. Love lost is sang on their track “Elisabeth,” in a song that obviously doesn’t feel like pining over loss, but a maturity and realization that things just don’t always work out. It’s a different way to put it, but makes the listener and the singer seem that much more hopeful, that it will all work out.
Lawlor and Phelan have a way with each song they sing, they seem so sincere, and I think their instrumentation certainly helps. The banjo has a way about it, especially the way Lawlor plays it. It sparkles throughout songs, creating a warm folky atmosphere regardless of the tone of the song. It draws the listener in through multiple songs mostly it seems dealing with romantic inclinations, and loss. Where I really think The River and the Road hit their stride is on their darker sounding tracks like “Rose Bay,” which may one of the best tracks on the album. It doesn’t necessarily fit in while the happy go luck ramblings, but its more powerful than the songs around it, which creates a stark contrast, and for me, its a must listen. The downtempo feel seems to work well; and they hit this really hard with the shared track above “Too Much.” It’s instantly singable, and practically begs you to holler their words, “if it’s love / then hell i’m gonna sing / i’m the ghost in the corner / hell i’m gonna warn ya / if I die, let it be from a good thing!” I can imagine the power they could hold when playing this live, and I love the track all the more because of it.
Their earnestness and sincerity earned a place in my heart, and I’ve listened to the record again and again and again. If this is the year of honesty and heart on your sleeve folk music, I think the River and the Road will find a lot of success.