by Eve Doster
Despite the death, tragedy and child abuse that usually befall the characters, we read our children fairytales before they go to sleep in hopes that it will send them into slumber full of hope and imagination. As adults, we deny ourselves this luxury, as life's too-real ordeals make castle-building moot. But there's something to be said for grown-up folly as much as there's something to be said for Ann Arbor's Great Lakes Myth Society, a band that openly embraces life's simplest treasures. Using music as the medium, they find tall-tale divinity in the tangible: lilac blossoms, warm breezes, twilight and glasses of red wine.
Though their reputation as faithful admirers of the Great Outdoors (Michigan, specifically) precedes them, it'd be wrong to shelve GLMS as gorp enthusiasts content to waffle on about nature and other hippy shit. The group's previous incarnation as the folksy Original Brothers and Sisters of Love, ended when they, in their own words, "adorned themselves in the most affordable black suits available and took to the stage under a new banner." But the black suits did much more than streamline their style; they became a metaphor for maturity.
The change brought about a variety of important but subtle changes. These days GLMS uses a bounty of genres including classical, folk, Celtic and rock 'n' roll to take listeners to very specific places in time and frames of mind. While the music is full of jangly joviality, balladeering and a magnificent command of their instruments, it's not enough for GLMS to simply pen a song they offer complete story-per-song narratives. Now there's something that's rarely done, much less done well.
Compass Rose Bouquet the band's second album is a 12-track slowburn of lasting imprints lifted directly from a Midwesterner's psyche. The lyrics move effortlessly in a way that recalls even Walt Whitman, and musically, the intricate song structures are colored by accordions, mandolins, violins, cellos, banjos, Wurlitzers and cornets; making the guitar often secondary. And when examining rites of passage, or reminiscing, as they do in opener "Heydays" which is a thirtysomething's backward gaze at his twenties the innocence is never fully lost.
The band takes a chance by removing interpretation from the equation, but ultimately, the payoff is big. "Queen of the Barley Fool," for example, is someone somewhere. Overflowing with harmonies, the song summons clear-as-day images of maritime alcoholics, barstools and beautifully flawed masculine egos. "Summer Bonfire" is half rock song, half sea shanty rife with groovy bass lines and happy electric guitar. It's the song of Summer '07.
And thank goodness the main songwriters brothers Timothy and James Monger have such distinctly different voices. Timothy's adenoidal lilt and James' tenor make for an all-inclusive mishmash of grace, vulnerability and strength. Gregory Dean McIntosh's solemn "March" is a piano and horn-driven ballad that creates a particularly lovely bridge that bonds the first half of the album to the last.
And while it's very much an homage to the spiritual, this record is abundant with something every grown-up deserves. It will at once show you your home state through an entirely different (and unusually thoughtful) lens and help you to dream your way through.
The group's release party is Saturday, June 9, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. American Mars and Chris Bathgate support.
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