"Legends & Landmarks" By The Ford Theatre Reunion (Lexington, KY)/Gypsy Rock/Released July 2015
In today’s music world it’s difficult to find something that sounds truly different. Art is influenced by all we experience and many of us experience the same things. Especially when it comes to music. Even many of the best musicians sound like a slightly tweaked version of something you’ve heard before. Once in a while however, an artist comes along that catches your ear and makes you go, “What the heck is this?”
The Ford Theatre Reunion was formed in Lexington, KY in 2008. Formerly an eight piece ensemble, the group has been trimmed to a quintet that has embarked on several tours across the U.S. bringing their self described “sludgefunkcircuspunk” to many unsuspecting ears. “Legends & Landmarks” is the band’s fourth release and follows their well received 2013 album “Famous Monsters”.
“Legends & Landmarks” draws from a variety of influences including punk, metal, folk, and gypsy music. Instrumentation uncommon for a rock band is often used including accordion, clarinet, saxophone, glockenspiel, and synthesizers among other unorthodox instruments. The band keeps a rock edge however with distorted guitars and live drums leading their bizarre cabaret of noise.
The songwriting features a common theme of travel and nomadic life likely inspired by the band’s experiences on the road touring. The group sports a trio of vocalists with Alex Johns’ emotive, theatrical vocal style featured the most frequently. Guitarist Joe Harbison also performs some notable lead vocals on songs such as the hard rocking “Bring Me The Head Of Tiburcio Vasquez” and the more melodic “Majorca”. Accordionist Eric Myers performs a Tom Waits-esque vocal showing on “South Saskatoon Rest Stop” as well. A personal favorite from the album. All three vocalists often switch back and forth between harmonies, backing vocal lines, and leads keeping things interesting with their distinct singing styles.
The record’s first half is loaded with the album’s fastest and most upbeat tracks. Upbeat drums, riffy guitars, and energetic vocals mark “Legends & Landmarks” first four songs with the unique accordion playing of Eric Myers’ acting as a lead instrument in place of a more common guitar, giving the group a lot of their unique flavor. “South Saskatoon Rest Stop” is a slower groove song with a synthesized organ line and Myers’ gravelly singing as the track’s trademarks. “The Study of Birds” begins as a soft melodic number before climaxing into metal style guitar and a clarinet lead. “Seat’s Taken” is the most melodic song of the album with jazzy instrumentation and a more restrained, conventional vocal performance from Johns. The blink and you’ll miss it punk spasm of “Flower & Resin” is followed by the upbeat “Road Dogs” which displays FTR’s most obvious Romani music influence. The two final tracks are also the albums two longest. The mostly melodic ballad of “Majora” is followed by the closing “Legend III: The Seed” which heavily brings the sludge of the band’s “sludgefunkcircuspunk”.
“Legends & Landmarks” is definitely an album that may be more difficult than most to digest for the average listener. Experimental instrumentation, unconventional vocal stylings, and rarely heard influences makes The Ford Theatre Reunion a band of a very special sort. However the musical prowess of the work cannot be denied and those looking for a sound that’s far from cookie cutter may find enjoyment in the band’s oddball musical approach. With eight years of writing and touring under their belt plenty more music fans are bound to find themselves going, “I don’t know what I’m hearing. But I like it.”