Mountain Xpress Album Review

Mountain Xpress Album Review: 'Bright Hills' by the Appalucians

Mountain Xpress, Posted on January 10, 2019 by Bill Kopp

 

Bright Hills, the debut album from Asheville-based folk quartet The Appalucians, reveals a charming and close-knit vibe within seconds of its opening track. Two of the group members — bassist/harpist Aditi Sethi and guitarist Angie Heimann — engage in a dual-lead harmony vocal on “Bloom in the Seed.” The two allow their vocal lines to wrap around each other, always remaining within the confines of harmony yet bounding effortlessly within that context to create a sound that’s somehow both precise and relaxed.

“Bloom in the Seed” effectively sets the tone for the album. All but one of the 14 original compositions on Bright Hills were written either by Heimann or guitarist Jay Brown (who is married to Sethi). Heimann’s husband, guitarist Cas Sochacki, rounds out the quartet. The instrumentation on the songs generally stays within the folk and Americana idioms: acoustic and resophonic guitars, harmonica and so forth. But the group’s classic pop songwriting influences filter through to the choice of instruments — electric piano and electric bass guitar are used judiciously within the songs.

But as fine and note-perfect as the playing is throughout Bright Hills, it’s the vocal blend that is most likely to win the hearts and minds of listeners. Heimann and Sethi’s voices seem custom-made to work as a team. There’s a playful tone in songs like “47 Main” that’s irresistibly appealing.

The two female singer-musicians don’t hog the spotlight, though; Jay Brown steps forward for the lead vocal on his own “Champagne Annie,” a breezy, catchy story-song in the tradition of the best country-rock hybrids from acts like Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco. The dueling lead guitar lines are effective, too, making “Champagne Annie” sound like a hit single.

With the subtle and buttery tones of a Fender Rhodes piano, the two-step vibe of “Breakin’ Even and Breakin’” sounds like a nod to the country of 1970s AM radio. Heimann’s contemplative “Farmtown Waltz” is a melancholy piece brightened by the songwriter’s crystalline, edge-of-heartbreak vocal delivery. “Smokin’ Ashes” is another heaping helping of classic country; its melodic line may be familiar to the point of predictability, but the song’s homespun charms and sincere delivery outweigh the shopworn nature of the melody.

Brown’s “Adibelle” is — one suspects — a love song to his partner. It’s also a showcase for more lovely harmony singing, this time of the male/female variety. Sethi initially takes the solo lead vocal on “Rhythm in the Wind,” a tune with a relatively unconventional (in this context) melody; it has a distinctly Eastern feel, underscored by the tabla work of guest artist Avi Chopra.

Heimann’s punningly titled “Hailbop” is a softly sung, plaintive mountain melody. A love song referencing one of the brightest comets to pass near Earth, it’s followed by “Ketchikan,” a tune with a picked guitar melody reminiscent of Arlo Gurthrie’s style (and wordplay that recalls Guthrie’s approach as well).

Sochacki sings baritone lead on his songwriting contribution to the record. Stylistically, “Don’t Bother Me” is an outlier on Bright Hills, but it’s fun nonetheless. What it has in common with the disc’s other songs is its display of the sheer enjoyment the musicians have in making music together. “One Man Woman” is an original, but it’s such an effective capturing of the easygoing pop-country aesthetic that it feels like a cover of a classic.

The a cappella harmonies that introduce “Sweet Later On” preview a more serious and thoughtful side of The Appalucians. The song balances the lighthearted moments nicely, rounding out a warm and inviting collection of songs. Bright Hills is a strong debut, one that effectively showcases the strengths of the quartet.

Shows

Previous events

Date Event Location
 —  — The Appalucians and CedarWing! The Raga Room, Black Mountain, NC The Raga Room, Black Mountain, NC
The Appalucians John and Peter's Place, New Hope, PA John and Peter's Place, New Hope, PA
The Appalucians on WXPN's "The Folk Show" with Ian Zolitor The Folk Show, 88.5 WXPN, Philadelphia, PA The Folk Show, 88.5 WXPN, Philadelphia, PA
The Appalucians tAra Yoga (Chestnut Hill), Philadelphia, PA tAra Yoga (Chestnut Hill), Philadelphia, PA
The Appalucians Audobon, NJ House Concert, Audobon, NJ Audobon, NJ House Concert, Audobon, NJ
The Appalucians Weaver House, Weaverville, NC Weaver House, Weaverville, NC
The Appalucians The Station, Louisville, TN The Station, Louisville, TN
Triple Songwriter show with Jay Brown, Angie Heimann, Michael McNevin WITH Marine Layer (Gwyneth Moreland and Skyler Hinkle) Caspar Community Center, Caspar, CA Caspar Community Center, Caspar, CA
On Air Songwriter show with Angie Heimann, Jay Brown and Michael McNevin KZYX and Z/Humble Pie with host Jimmy Humble, Philo, CA KZYX and Z/Humble Pie with host Jimmy Humble, Philo, CA
Triple Songwriter Show with Angie Heimann, Jay Brown and Michael McNevin Santa Rosa, CA Santa Rosa, CA
on air Sonngwriter Show with Micheal McNevin, Jay Brown and Angie Heimann KPIG/KPYG 107.5 with Sleepy John, Freedom, CA KPIG/KPYG 107.5 with Sleepy John, Freedom, CA
Triple Songwriter show with Michael McNevin, Jay Brown and Angie Heimann Santa Cruz, CA Santa Cruz, CA
Triple Songwriter Show with Jay Brown, Angie Heimann and Michael McNevin Niles RV Park, Niles, CA Niles RV Park, Niles, CA
The Appalucians on WETS 89.5 Studio One with Dave Carter Studio One with Dave Carter WETS 89.5 , Johnson City, TN Studio One with Dave Carter WETS 89.5 , Johnson City, TN
The Appalucians at UU Fellowship of Boca Raton UU Fellowship of Boca Raton, Boca Raton, FL UU Fellowship of Boca Raton, Boca Raton, FL
The Appalucians on WLRN "The Folk show" with Michael Stock WLRN, Miami, FL WLRN, Miami, FL
South Florida Folk Festival Ft. Lauderdale, FL Ft. Lauderdale, FL
The Appalucians Luna Star Cafe, Miami, FL Luna Star Cafe, Miami, FL
The Appalucians Lost Province Brewing, Boone, NC Lost Province Brewing, Boone, NC
Songwriter Showcase The Raga Room, Black Mountain, NC The Raga Room, Black Mountain, NC

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