Fox & Bones, Kitka, Bearfoot, Zak Trojano: New Releases

Fox and Bones, Better Land

Combine the leave-it-on-the-stage hard work of Ellis Paul, add a female voice, and mix with pop- and country-tinged folk and you’ve got an idea of what Fox and Bones sounds like. This delightful Oregon-based duo of Sarah Vitort (“Fox”) and Scott Gilmore (“Bones”) serves up music that’s optimistic, harmonically simpatico, and catchy. It seems these days that any man/woman duo draws immediate comparisons to the (now defunct) Civil Wars, which is a shame as it’s hard for most female singers to match Joy Williams. It also pigeonholes bands in inaccurate ways. Ignore those comparisons, Fox and Bones shines with its own light. The title track is a slice of hope for our troubled times. It manages to be deeply emotional and make a joyful noise despite being just two voices and a resonant guitar. “Little Animal” is a hand-clap, thick bass line treat with the wonderful line: Everything has already been said/Well, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The YouTube video of the song is silly, yet strangely compelling. “Welcome Home” tells of one who had lost his way, but landed well and recounts that journey in an honest warts-and-all fashion. Fox and Bones also have a new single, “Love Me Like a River,” and it’s both mysterious and come-hither carnal. This is definitely an act to catch. ★★★★

Kitka, Evening Star/Wintersongs

From Oakland comes a remarkable collection of women who sing in 18 different languages and carry endorsements from everyone from David Crosby to Garrison Keillor. Those 18 languages, by the way, include Ladino and medieval Galician. Maybe you didn’t know anyone spoke Galician in the Middle Ages. Kitka delight in teaching as well enrapturing us. Summer Burke of the Guardian said it well, “Even God stops to listen when Kitka … opens its collective mouth.” Kita truly is a collective–nine voices at last count–performing mostly a cappella music inspired by Eastern European traditions, especially those of Bulgaria. Their repertoire sometimes seems like choral singing. At the other end of the scale are ancient songs that skirt the edges of dissonance and could have been the soundtrack for creation. I listened to 22 tracks from two albums, each of them a jewel. See what you think of “Momci Koledarci,” with keening and drone from Kitka adding depth to a Bulgarian young people’s ensemble. Go with Kitka on the road as they sing one of their winter songs, “Ščo v pana khazjajna.” Their voices linger in the air like falling snow on “Alilo.” I have no idea what the lyrics to any of these might mean. I don’t need to. I agree with Summer Burke. ★★★★★

Bearfoot, Strong Water

Is there’s any doubt that bluegrass music is hotter than a banjo in a bonfire, consider that bands form in places where Kentucky-style bluegrass wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Like Alaska for instance, which is where Bearfoot started playing even before several of its members headed off to Eastern Tennessee State University to study. Fiddler Angela Oudean joined Bearfoot when she was just 16 and now might be the only person in the country with a BS in sociology and a minor in bluegrass! Bearfoot’s blend of grass seed contains alt.country, swing, folk, Cajun, and–courtesy of guest singer Megan McCormick–a bit of blues. “Firefly” sounds like a Heather Maloney song until Oudean turns it loose. Youthful exuberance meets breakneck playing on “Derailed;” Poison Drips” has the taste of a sweet mountain song, its title notwithstanding. I reckon the “Tuscarora” ridges look mighty puny to native Alaskans, but they give the weathered Appalachians a loving treatment. Good stuff from a rising band. ★★★★

Zak Trojano, Wolf Trees

The first time I heard Zak Trojano he washed over me in the way opening acts often do. What a difference a few years can make. The phrase, “he plays a wicked guitar” can be overused, but it fits Trojano like fingerpicks, which is what he wears when he showcases acoustic lap guitar and dark voice on “99 Ways.” His songwriting skills have also sharpened, as you’ll hear on “Kid’s Got Heart.” If you like acoustic guitar that booms and rings with dark tones, “Nowhere Shuffle” is for you. With the release of Wolf Trees Zak Trojano has come into his own. Don’t take my word for it; Chris Smither hangs out with Trojano. ★★★★

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