reviewed by Michael Thomas
A banjo is an instrument with a sound that is inextricably linked with folk, roots and Americana music. Few acts tend to make the instrument central to their music, but when they do, they seem to make otherworldly music. Off the top of my head, I think about how Corey Gulkin and Old Time Machine made the banjo sound unlike most others. Meredith Moon finds her roots in folk and folk-punk, and her proficiency with the banjo is without question.
The album artwork is a good image to keep in mind while listening to the music—there’s an almost pastoral scene and we see a woman looking off into the distance, banjo slung over her back, as though it’s available at a split-second’s notice if inspiration strikes. Nature is plentiful in Moon’s lyrics on Forest Far Away, as is a sense of wonder.
Five songs on the album are traditional, and two of those four are instrumentals. To hear opener “Snowdrop/Arkansas Traveler” is to immediately understand Moon’s talent on the banjo. The notes feel warm and inviting. “Squirrel Hunters” slows down the banjo a little, but also shows off Moon’s other talent for podorhythmie, which involves tapping feet on boards using specialized shoes. It’s not as easy as it sounds! The traditional songs with vocals, “Darlin’ Cory” and “Hills of Mexico,” both have a strong sense of time and Moon’s vocals make them warm and compassionate stories.
Moon’s own songs also feel like classic songs. I don’t know how she managed to get such as mystical sound out of her banjo for the song “Faeries in the Cathedral,” but she did. The instrumental “Byron’s Song” has Moon playing a banjo faster than seems humanly possible. “Old House” is one of the rare guitar-only songs on the album, as Moon compares herself to an old house with a million things wrong with it. “Rocky Mountain Blues” feels like a classic road song, while also showcasing Moon’s powerful vocals.
Moon ends her album with the expansive “The Ballad of Colten Boushie,” a song that not only retells the tragedy of the young man’s death, but the effects that his death has had on the world. Though Moon never lets too much emotion cloud her voice as she sings, it’s clear what she means with lines like “How good they must feel to be white in white man’s country.”
Meredith Moon feels like a classic singer the way Robbie Bankes does; both pay tribute to those that came before while forging a path forward.
Top Tracks: “Rocky Mountain Blues”; “The Ballad of Colten Boushie”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)