Antara, All the Strays
(Little Weird Girl Productions, CD)
What the hell is “new folk?” Like so many non-descriptive genre descriptors, the term does little to convey what kind of music the artist in question actually plays. The “folk” component is fairly obvious: acoustic instruments, straightforward song structure and lyrical subject matter generally in the socio-political or romantic realm. But what exactly makes “new folk” new? With her latest album, All the Strays, local singer-songwriter Antara attempts to address that very question. The answer? Generic acoustic pop.
A veteran of the coffee house and alternative folk fest circuits, Antara has developed a solid following through music built around her distinctive percussive guitar style and intelligent, socially conscious lyrics — abundant assets on her third full-length solo release. However, the songwriter seems to stumble in a full band setting, as her trademark talents too often give way to derivative folk-pop in the vein of the Indigo Girls’ more upbeat work. Or maybe Ani DiFranco on Valium.
Even the singer’s witty lyricism and oft-catchy melodic hooks aren’t strong enough to pull All the Strays out of its tedious malaise, because, more often than not, Antara allows unimaginative arrangements and paint-by-numbers song structure to provide the vehicle for her otherwise sturdy work. The result is a frustrating experience for the listener, who is ultimately left wanting something more.
Antara is backed by the rhythmic duo of Chris Cheney on bass and drummer Chris Johnston. The pair generally provide a solid backbone but, again, have little to work with in the verse-chorus-verse construct of the bandleader’s tunes. As a result, Cheney in particular is sometimes guilty of overplaying, his rambling bass lines often taking center stage rather than serving as a foundation.
Some moments on the album come together nicely and hint at a creative ability beyond what’s typically offered here. The album’s final listed cut — there’s also a hidden live track — “You Gotta Love Her For Tryin’,” is a bouncy little pop tune with a nifty vocal bridge. Sadly, the remainder of All the Strays fails to match that song’s ingenuity.
Antara has a strong reputation as an engaging live performer — the hidden live track is actually one of the record’s stronger cuts — and I imagine many of these songs translate better in a concert setting. Find out this Saturday, October 27, as the singer-songwriter plays an early show at Club Metronome.