By the River Bend, the debut solo album from Yukon Blonde bassist Andy Bishop, seems at first to fall right in line with a thread that weve been seeing a whole lot of in the past five years. Bishop is an impressively bearded Vancouverite who writes aching folksongs that yearn for the woods. And if hed rather not be considered just another link in a trendy chain, then it certainly doesnt help that his voice is a dead ringer at times for those of his Northwest homies Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses.
Either way, it’s not really true. Instead, River is the product of a plenty capable talent who clearly doesnt care to challenge the confines of traditional folk the way that Foxes proggy psych-folk or Horses towering, plugged-in folk-rock might, but does well working within them. The albums warmth, delicately complemented by intertwining acoustic guitar, piano, and multi-part harmonies, make for some fine sing-a-long material fit for a long drive. While it wont earn him any comparisons to the explorers at the forefront of the indie folk scene, that doesnt make Bishop any less of a professional.
What that does mean, though, is age-old song structures and folk-isms abound. There are honeys and missin yous and nature allusions and The Times They Are A-Changin nods around every corner: Through all this hell, its hard to tell / If things are better than they were before, Bishop sings on I Cant Get Tomorrow,” almost as if to openly contemplate the Bob Dylan lyric.
River also contains two covers out of nine tracks a competent acoustic take on Hoagy Carmichaels Hong Kong Blues for the album opener, and one on the traditional Katie Cruel which means just 26 minutes of original material here. Although thats quite light for an LP, any more than that would start to get superfluous for River, which testifies that there will always be a place for the straightforward, well-executed folk album.
Essential Tracks: I Cant Get Tomorrow, The Rain Came