When Dry The River emerged from London’s vibrant folk scene, it was clear they were keen to be seen as somewhat separate from their contemporaries. Promo shots that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Kerrang! Magazine, and a penchant for expansive electric guitars fell together and presented a band who clearly weren’t aiming for Johnny Flynn-esque whimsical musings.
Their debut album, Shallow Bed does nothing to upset this vision, although it is not the groundbreaking release that many 21st century folk fans may be longing for. Older fan favourites are all fit and present, with very little altered in the way of arrangements and delivery, ‘History Books’ still ascends to a rousing finale, albeit with restraint, and ‘Bible Belt’ is still a choral, folk ditty, sitting in the more traditional end of Dry The River’s sound.
On the more contemporary end of things, ‘The Chambers & The Valves’ is an almost astonishingly beautiful piece of folk-rock where the delicate mix of the brash and the lush, come together in a perfect 3 minutes. It is the album’s best track by a stretch. ‘No Rest’, nearly fulfils this ambition also, although front man Peter Liddle’s vocal line seems forced and a little keen for your attention; Dry The River are never better than when they treat their songs with the understated beauty that graces so much of Shallow Bed, look to ‘Shaker Hymns’ for a perfect example of this.
Fans of Local Natives et al will find lots to enjoy here, tracks are instant and not a melody is wasted. The familiar lilting melodies of violins and harmonised vocals come as no great shock to the listener, but they serve this purpose excellently. This is probably surmised perfectly in the climatic ending of album closer ‘Lions Den’; sure the parts build together perfectly and are delivered with all the gusto you would expect, but that’s just the problem, it is all rather expected, as if the album is going through the motions rather than exciting and challenging our expectations.
A couple of months ago, I pitched this album as a potentially great album, and it so very nearly is. Dry The River’s ambition to match Fleet Foxes’ scope and pastoral shine is admirable, but the result is more like that of fellow folk-rockers, Mumford & Sons; concise and well executed, but a little clean around the edges for the passion that clearly lives in this band, to shine through.
Released on 5th March 2012 by RCA Records