Horse Feathers

Horse Feathers performed on Lower Sproul on Friday, April 9th.

Lately I've been obsessed with everything warm-weathered and tinged with Americana, so when I heard that Portland-based Horse Feathers would be playing a noontime show on Friday, April 9th in Lower Sproul, I jumped at the opportunity to see them. Their 2008 album, "House With No Home," was a springtime staple for me last year (despite the album cover featuring a snowy scene) and their latest -- which will be released April 20th -- has the even more promising title of "Thistled Spring."

Horse Feathers are perhaps more folksy than most of the bands showcased in Lower Sproul, but this only made their mellow, string-laden songs more of a joy to hear. There are only four members to the band, but between them, they played quite an impressive group of instruments. Frontman Justin Ringle played the acoustic guitar, sang, and occasionally tapped a tambourine with his foot. Catherine Odell played cello and offered lilting backup vocals. Sam Cooper handled percussion, the banjo, the violin, a mandolin, and the keyboard. Nathan Crockett played the violin and even busted out a saw (yes, the kind you cut wood with), which he played with a bow for some background ethereal tones.

Sam Cooper played the keyboard, while Justin Ringle took on the acoustic guitar.

The Renaissance Man: Cooper on the banjo.

Horse Feathers' minor-keyed, melancholy tunes recall the best of folk tradition -- a good story, a sweating glass of iced tea on a hot afternoon, walking down a dusty road. Still, don't let the banjo and violin fool you -- Horse Feathers never sound like a hokey bluegrass imitation. The violin swoops and soars rather than sounding like a fiddle, and the banjo even sounds delicate on occasion. Overall, Horse Feathers' brand of folk is less Appalachian backwoods, and more like the rustic Pacific Northwest. They make music for long drives with the windows rolled down, or for napping in tall grass. These scenes may be a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Sproul at noon, but the band succeeded in completely transporting the audience. We were lucky enough to hear old favorites like "
Curs in the Weeds" and "Heathen's Kiss," as well as some new songs from the upcoming album. At times, the instruments swung into crescendos before falling sharply, with Crockett's and Odell's violin and cello adding depth and lush notes to Cooper's banjo and mandolin. Above it all, however, rose Ringle's high, reedy voice. Although the lyrics sometimes got lost as he held wavering, ringing notes or twisted words into new melodies, his voice was incredible to listen to.

Nathan Crockett took a break from playing the violin to play the less conventional saw instead.

Crockett plays the violin as Catherine Odell plays the cello. All photography by the author.

As Cooper mentioned during the set, Horse Feathers will be back in the Bay Area in late May. By then, "Thistled Spring" will be out, and the warm weather will be in full swing. It was already wonderful to hear Ringle sing, "it's noon in the belly of June" out on Sproul -- I can only imagine how great it will be once summer is actually here. Horse Feathers were presented by
SUPERB. For more information about the band, visit their record label's website or their myspace.

Yael Levy
BARE Reporter

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