Everything Is Alive
More Doug/Thirty Tigers
The folk ensemble Darlingside follow their acclaimed 2020 Fish Pond Fish with Everything Is Alive, their fifth, which marks a slight change in their united front, in favor of more individual statements. Band members Dave Senft (vocals, bass), Don Mitchell (vocals, guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (vocals, violin, mandolin), and Harris Paseltiner (vocals, cello, guitars) gathered with producer/engineer/mixer Tucker Martine (Bill Frisell, My Morning Jacket, Iron and Wine) to deliver the album that marks a turning point hinted to in the credits. The album’s drummer Ben Burns and singer Molly Parden as well as others, probably some combination of these folks – Ben Cosgrove (piano, keys) and Deitrich Strause (trumpet, flugelhorn) while Senft steps away from touring. Other musicians such as Areil Bernstein, Thomas John Cadrin, Caitlin Canty, and Denin Hlavinka make cameos but are likely not touring with the group.
So, the augmented group, new producer, and a more individual focus represents a slight shift in the band’s sound, but last album’s pandemic induced remote recording process holds true again as life changes such as the birth of a baby girl to Pasletiner also impacted scheduling. The band takes on both personal and socio-political themes, as each of the four wrote three songs, yet because they present themselves as a unit, with group credits on all songs, we are unable to assign particular tracks to each. They kick off with the hopeful “Green Light,” and the first thing one may notice are the prominent female voices of Parden and Hlavinka in the mix, later mingling with the band’s lush trademark harmonies. The perky rhythms of the banjo infused “Lose the Keys” bely the lyrical focus on loss. Guest Bernstein adds percussion to the jaunty “Right Friend,” as Parden continues to sing with the core members as she does through all but two tracks on the album. “All the Lights in the City” is a charming, harmonious love song essaying the choices committed couples must make.
The first single and album centerpiece is “Eliza I See,” written by Paseltiner details the passage of time with his young daughter. He saved the songs he made for her at the beginning of the pandemic, saving them as voice memos. When revisiting them a year later, they took on a new meaning with a myriad of emotions that he recounts this way, “The chorus picked up on this mood with the idea of trying to hold onto a dream as it fades after waking up. It deals with the joy, but also pain, that comes with change, and the excitement of gaining something new while necessarily losing something at the same time.” By contrast, the cello driven “Darkening Hour” sets a solemn mood with Caitlin Cary in one of two appearances, setting up the luxurious harmonies that color an even darker subject, gun violence in “How Long Again,” with its stunning a cappella passages. “Down Here” highlights the band’s musicianship, leaning toward classical strains of violin, cello, and just a feathery touch of mandolin. “Baking Soda” becomes expansive with Strause’s trumpet and Cosgrove’s keys contributing to the dense soundscape.
“Sea Dogs” rings with Cosgrove’s piano amidst the dense backdrop as the mournful lyrics question rihether death is indeed a final breath or viewed in the Buddhist context of a possible return. Gentle acoustic guitar picking of “Can’t Keep Falling Apart” frames a high pitched vocal in yet another moody turn. Not surprisingly, they bookend the album with a hopeful ending in the banjo drive “The Breaking of the Day.”
Darlingside is a compelling live act with their interplay, between song banter, and tendencies for good natured fun. Some of these moodier songs bely the vibrancy suggested by the title but their live act will more than satisfy..
- Jim Hynes