time-capsule quality. The lead female vocalist, Merrill Hodnefield, sounds as if her maple syrup voice were plucked from the past. A slight nasally quality gives it a filtered sound, like it's traveled through a mile of Spanish moss before reaching your ears. With his gravelly voice, front man Aaron Klein channels Tom Waits, and his lyrics are a deft blend of sweet-dark imagery: "the blind girls dance crooked/and the pier's broken free/the tree's full of perfume/and it won't let me be." Songs are peppered with things like lockets and gambling pistols--nary a cell phone in sight.
But live, the band has a bewitching energy. They channel all of their old-timey vibes into a performance that's earthy and vibrant and makes you feel like you're witnessing--and simultaneously part of--an amazing artistic endeavor. For starters, they play a bewildering number of instruments. I counted something like twenty-three when I saw them at the Ark last fall: guitars, violins, mandolin, ukulele, dobro, double bass, saw, accordion, organ, trumpet, banjo... And a Stroh violin, which Klein explains was an 1899 invention that attached a horn to a violin skeleton for amplification. The technology was obsolete shortly after it was invented, making it a perfect instrument for a band that resurrects old forms.