The Brothers Comatose – “Respect The Van”
By Jim Simpson
String bands are so prevalent these days that if you stand on any street corner in this country and throw a rock you just might hit one. Hailing from San Francisco, the Brothers Comatose are not just any old string band.
Their latest and second full-length, Respect The Van, finds this exceptional quintet (brothers Alex and Ben Morrison, vocals, banjo and guitar; Gio Benedetti, vocals and bass; Philip Brezina, fiddle; Ryan Avellone, mandolin) cruising with a full tank and thumping on all cylinders. As the title suggests, it’s not surprising that a good portion of the songs involve touring and travel. “Pie for Breakfast” is an irresistibly bouncy number about life on the road, missing home and loved ones. Sure, eating pie for breakfast sounds celebratory, but as it turns out it seems to be the perfect metaphor to push aside the romantic fantasy of traveling in a working band. “I’m havin’ pie for breakfast, the snow is coming down. I’m staring out the window at a cold and distant town.” The song also offers up the existential question: Is traveling and rambling in a band really another way of hiding from reality? Deep stuff indeed from a string band, but it’s honest and it works.
“120 East” and “Strings” are among the other traveling songs about the often mind-numbing repetition of the road as well as following your calling regardless of the consequences, respectively. “Morning Time” is a slow and sweet modern folk adaptation of the country mouse/city mouse tale, featuring Ben and the lovely Nicki Bluhm. The duo trades off the joys of being a night owl in the city, for him, and a mellower country life, for her. The song is gorgeous — you can imagine these two ships passing in the night while hoping a compromise is reached. The band shows off its pure musical chops on “Scout”, “Pennies Are Money Too” and “The Van Song” (a raucous anthem about their 1988 Chevy van: “Our van’s got a big mustache. Respect her or she’ll kick your ass”) featuring their best foot-stompin’, high-energy, intelligent and humorous brand of bluegrass. “Feels Like The Devil” could be the theme song for hangovers everywhere.
The Brothers Comatose have the uncanny ability to combine the old with the new and make it sound completely fresh and relevant. As for the band’s name (yes, I was curious too), Ben observed that when Alex plays banjo, his brother goes into a trance-like state. “His eyes roll back in his head like he’s in a coma.” Respect The Van is anything but comatose, and was tracked live in the studio, perhaps contributing to the loose feel.
This one’s a winner, folks.
Tour dates HERE.