The Decemberists set bar with The King Is Dead
What could be the album of 2011 has already hit store shelves as The King is Dead by The Decemberists is topping both the Top 40 and College Radio album charts. The sixth studio release from Colin Meloy (lead vocals), Chris Funk (guitar), Jenny Conlee (accordion), John Moen (drums), and Nate Query (bass) is comprised of ten impressive tracks that were recorded in a converted barn. Located near Portland, Oregon on 80 acres of lush meadows, forest, and views of Mt. Hood, the setting provided the album’s earthy attitude.
Meloy took a few leftover songs not released on the previous album The Hazards of Love and started working on a set of more stripped-down, country-based songs. The mostly-acoustic arrangements on The King Is Dead showcase the band in simple, concise compositions as compared to the more elaborate structures which had defined their work for years. The addition of Gillian Welch, who sings on seven songs (in addition to backing vocals from her musical partner Dave Rallings) added another new wrinkle. “Some of my favorite country-rock records had that consistent pairing with a female voice, like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris” says Meloy. “We thought it’d be great if there was a female foil to my singing and Gillian was sweet enough to come on board.”
The band was also able to reel in one of their actual inspirations into the recording studio. “A few things, like ‘Down by the Water’ and ‘Calamity Song,’ were out-and-out homages to R.E.M.,” says Meloy. “I mentioned to Peter Buck that I was writing some songs that were really ripping off his style, and he thought it was funny, so it seemed like, why not get him in and just wear it on our sleeves?” Buck wound up adding his signature guitar on those two songs, and contributing mandolin to “Don’t Carry It All.”
The Popes of Pendarvia World Tour is rolling to sold-out dates in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. To sweeten the pot, Sara Watkins is playing fiddle with the band and Justin Townes Earle will be opening the shows behind his latest release Harlem River Blues. To fully understand what the fuss is about, listen to the CD and then realize why I’m driving two hours to see the band live.