Together for just under two years now, Calamity Janes and The Fratney Street Band have wasted no time crafting their own brand of folk music. Their sound harkens back to the days of the singer-songwriters who pioneered folk music with heartfelt songs of personal pain and anguish but also brings with it a lighter side. Their talent for songwriting and wonderful sense of melody is easy to hear in their debut LP Easier, Better.
The simple yet elegant opener “Dive” presents an immediate taste of the vocal prowess that resides within this Milwaukee based folk group. A bass drum taps quietly like a heart beat while a chorus of voices harmonize a sweet & clever tune.
This 1 min and 13 second song is only an appetizer of course, the album begins to kick in with “In the Garden”. It has all of the elements you’d like to hear in a folk song, bittersweet lyrics, driving acoustic guitars, and a slough of fiddles providing the melodies.
A somber violin leads off the next rack, “Seasons”. The instrumentation is a bit more minimal on this one, the guitar and drums are deeper in the mix, leaving the vocals to shine through, and they really do shine on this one. There’s never really much of a climax to the song but if you’re listening hard enough you should be so transfixed with it that you won’t even notice.
“Night” saunters in next and allows the band to show off their foreign language skills in the last verse.
The title track is one of those songs that you can’t help but relate to, assuming you’ve lived a normal life full of ups, downs, loves, losses, and everything in between. Hearing (and taking to heart) the line “The old ways aren’t bad ways, still I think it’s time to let them go” in my younger years might have saved me some mental anguish. Even now, it’s a comforting sentiment that we all have to tell ourselves at some point.
Into the second half of the album, the aptly titled “Milwaukee” is a nice ode to one of Wisconsin’s best cities. The song has a deeper dialogue that deals with the isolation of being away from home and what you’ve left behind. It’ll make you homesick sitting in your living room.
“Old Oak Tree” is sung in sultry manner that does not come off as a folk song at first. With a different band behind it, it could easily be crooned by the likes of Etta James or Ella Fitzgerald. Once the fiddle kicks in you’re reminded that this is a folk album. It’s the longest track on the album and quickly becoming my favorite.
The next tune, “Terms of Collapse”, comes in with some quickly strummed guitar chords and a driving drum beat. It’s one of the most upbeat songs on this 10 track album. The great vocal harmonies are still there, there’s just a bit more “twang” to this one. It’s definitely a foot-stomper.
Nearing the end of the album is “Woo Hoo”, a song that takes it’s catchy refrain right from its title. This is another standout in my opinion, it’s the right mix of catchy and cute and it deals with the ever popular folk subject of “home”.
Closing things out is “Dustadust”. The ethereal track sums up the album nicely, especially in the simple idiom “Dust to dust / we do what we must”. At the end of the day, that’s about all there is to it. We do what we must, what else can be said?
All in all, Easier, Better is an impressive debut for the band. It’s thought-provoking but also very fun to listen to, and it won’t bore your friends either. The three-part harmonies are truly breathtaking and on top of that, the band knows how to play. Highly recommended listening.
Download a digital copy of the album for $10 over on bandcamp or even better, pick up a CD at one of the band’s upcoming shows if you’re in the Milwaukee area. Even if you’re just in the Midwest, make the drive out to one of these gigs, you won’t regret it.
September 10th at Mad Planet with Sole & Yo Dot
September 12th at The Brink Lounge in Madison, WI for Bubble Fest
September 14th at Frank’s Power Plant with ROCKET PALOMA, Scott David, & Quiet Hollers
September 28th at Hotel Foster with Ladders, Twin Brother, and New Red Moons