The Low Anthem are a trio out of Providence, Rhode Island consisting of two Brown grads and a NASA technician. Their latest album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, is a loose collection of songs musing on the concept of evolution and the current state of human affairs. It was originally self-released then snapped up by Nonesuch (home to Wilco, Ry Cooder and others).
It’s easily apparent listening to this album and seeing them live that not only are they talented multi-instrumentalists but they are also smarty-pants (Brown, NASA) who likely studied music history and theory in college while folks like me were binge drinking to Little Feat and Widespread Panic.
I first heard of The Low Anthem on a car trip through central Oregon with a colleague who recommended them to me based on our conversation that day, which was centered on listening to Steve Earle’s tribute Townes.
On his recommendation, I downloaded OMG, Charlie Darwin and was initially unsure about the connection he saw between my love of Steve Earle/Townes VanZandt and this album, which opens with sparse guitar chords and falsetto. The album evolves into a fuller sound over 12 tracks and alternates, in a rather jarring manner, between ethereal folk songs and a handful of gritty, foot-stomping Americana tunes.
A few weeks ago, I headed to see their live early show on a Sunday evening, their first Portland gig. They started out mellow, saying they’d made an album of “confused hymns for scientists” which my slightly dyslexic brain remembered as “hymns for confused scientists”. I think both are charming.
I was impressed with their choices of cover songs, including the relatively obscure “Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From?”, Robbie Robertson’s “Evangeline” and my personal favorite, the traditional “Cigarettes and Whiskey (and Wild, Wild Women).” It was a beautiful show, although a little mellow for my aging self on a Sunday night. I completely admire their work and musicianship but can’t help but wish they’d put out an entire album of the upbeat, “full throttle barn-burners“.
You can sample some of their more mellow sounds on their myspace page, but here are a couple of my favorites.
Also check out Kasey Anderson’s thoughtful piece over on Nine Bullets.