Califone's music is rooted in Americana - blues and folk, banjos and weirdness - often sounding like they just emerged from the same building (Prairie Sun Recording) where Tom Waits recorded Bone Machine - sounding like the early 70s flick Deliverance transposed into music - a rustic, rootsy sound, at times laced with a hot wire of bluesy violence.
"Wingbone," off Thrill Jockey Records release Heron King Blues, is cradled in delta blues territory – the vocal half submerged beneath the muddy waves of callused fingers sliding and snapping wound steel into bell-shaped notes. A conga drumbeat hesitating it's way along a Mississippi boarding house hallway hung in coffee brown paper. All the while the voice buried, but far from dead, clinging to the melody as the guitars buzz like hungry flies against picks and fingernails.
The song is from Califone's latest cd, Heron King Blues. When I heard the name of the album I wondered what a Heron King was... soooo, I looked it up and discovered that bandleader Tim Rutili has had recurring dreams of a giant bird-like creature since childhood... and that he had recently discovered the ancient Druids used a large man made bird to terrorize British troops on the battlefield, the Druids calling it the Heron King. When he learned of this he had an epiphany, deciding to write an album based on his dreams. Hence the album with songs such as Heron King Blues, Trick Bird, and Wingbone.
The band's current lineup is Tim Rutili (vocals, electric piano, guitar), Ben Masserella (drums), Joe Adamik (drums, electronics) and Jim Becker (banjo, fiddle, guitar) – and these faces have a history together. When Chicago blues/rock band Red Red Meat imploded the members (Rutilli and Massaerella among them) spread like seeds in the wind. Eventually the core of Red Red Meat found themselves working together again and realized that was where they should be. A name change and less emphasis on blues based weirdness and more on back porch southern country weirdness and you have Califone - a band that has been compared to such disparate acts as Modest Mouse, Calexico, Will Oldham, and The Black Heart Procession.
Alan Williamson *Sixeyes