Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Sterling Sisters: Hale (2012)

Raised in the West . . . or Baltimore

Pesanta Urfolk may be one of my favorite labels at the moment. Not only did they release the incredible Lux Interna album this year, which takes a Neurosis approach to Americana, their whole deal may be to do exactly what interests me right now: Straddling the worlds of metal and dark folk. I’ll just make a note to myself to do more research on them later. For now, The Sterling Sisters are what’s important.

The Sterling Sisters play in the old-timey folk/country meets rock and roll style pioneered by 16 Horsepower and other Denver bands. The modern drumming, bass, and the occasional distortion give the sound the update to make it palatable to a modern audience. That’s old news. But here’s the new part. This young band has fully taken advantage of what the Internet has to provide aspiring musicians, putting everything out on Bandcamp and running a Kickstarter to fund their tour. Their debut full-length, Hale, was given a limited release last New Year’s and is now being given a proper issue by Pesanta Urfolk.

Upon first listen, I was a little turned off. Despite my whole-hearted love of this style, it seemed just a little too affected. But the whole steampunk thing intrigues me, and really, how much of metal is just an affectation? So I gave it another shot, and I got past that.

They draw on Western soundtrack to much success with “Hale” and “Raised You in the West.” Male vocals take the fore, and female vocals stay in the back, sounding perfectly as if they could have been in a Morricone composition. They turn from Western toward country through most of the record, and switch lead and backing vocal roles in places. “Shallow Blood” incorporates what I think is gypsy folk, and “Heaven” has a rock edge. Rounding out the record are two old-timey country duets. “Country Love” is nothing special, but “Red White & Beauty” is. It has a genuine emotional impact, and contains the wonderful line “Well, I’m not a child but I sure ain’t no man.” That describes a real plague among too many men of my generation.

To bottom-line it, I don’t think Hale is the record that’s going to convince any dark Americana doubters among metal fans. But if you’re already on board, you'll like it.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Pesanta Urfolk

P.S. A 3.5 for this kind of music is far better than a 3.5 in a genre that sees 1000 indistinguishable releases every year.

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