Real Vocal String Quartet - On Slacker Ridge

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Real Vocal String Quartet
Slacker Ridge
Flower Note (

Listen "Cluck Old Hen"

On my radio show, I will broadcast pretty much any version of “Cluck Old Hen” that I can find. It's a simple little song that I have known forever. I like how every recording of this folk tune takes a slightly different direction -- different instrumentation, different speeds, different mixing of the innumerable verses and textual variations. A study of the many renditions of “Cluck Old Hen” could be in and of itself a study of the folk music tradition.

So the other day, when into my lap fell new EP Slacker Ridge from the Real Vocal String Quartet, I was very pleased to see that track 1 was “Cluck Old Hen.” I also saw that the RVSQ looks like a traditional string quartet -- two violins, viola, and cello. I wondered what a classically trained string quartet would sound playing this Appalachian folk tune, a question which often is formed in my mind as “What Would Yo-Yo Ma Do?” With my vivid imagination intact, I dove right in. The instrumental introduction sounded kind of like I thought it would. Then in came the voices, and my entire experience shifted.

I almost hear the voices and the instruments two separate ensembles. The strings have an overtly urban, big-city sound, while the vocals harken back to an old-time Appalachian rural style. This clash of timbres, this fascinating juxtaposition of looking simultaneously forward and back, this drawing from two traditions that I love dearly is a welcome surprise. This blend -- and sometimes the lack thereof -- makes for one of the most intriguing and entertaining versions of “Cluck Old Hen” I've ever heard.

Listen "I Keep You Safe" (excerpt)

This two-pronged approach continues throughout much of the recording. RVSQ calls Slacker Ridge their Americana recording. This is not in the veins of something from Steve Earle or Gillian Welch, but it certainly brings together some incredible American ideas and merges them wonderfully into a sound that is not heard every day.

Listen "California Residents Blissful ..." (excerpt)

Not every song fits this mold, as there are a few instrumentals. The best of these is “California Residents Blissful After Impending Earthquake.” This tune includes creative free-form improvisation, something I'd love to hear more of from string quartets. I encourage listeners to set aside any preconceived notions they may have about string quartets or Appalachian vocal ensembles, and take in the pleasingly different sounds of the Real Vocal String Quartet. - Greg Harness

P.S. Have I mentioned lately how much I love EPs? I have nothing against the 12-song full-length CD except the time it takes for artists to produce the next one. I crave new music delivered more frequently, and distribution systems exist today to get new music out very quickly. Instead of 12 songs every two years, I'd rather hear 6 songs every year. Or 3 songs twice a year. Or how about a new song every couple of months?

Find the ensemble online

You might also like to hear Dreamers Circus.

All audio © 2016 Real Vocal String Quartet. Used by permission.


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