Previously Unreleased Tracks from Eclectic Indie Americana Band
On their latest EP, the boys of Goodnight, Texas embrace all their unique quirks while channeling a variety of Americana influences. The collaboration between San Francisco-based Avi Vinocur and North Carolina-based Patrick Dyer Wolf has evolved in the seven years they’ve been working together from a standard-form indie Americana operation to something a bit more eclectic …and interesting.
An Even Longer Life of Living features four songs that were omitted from their 2012 debut album A Long Life of Living, and live recordings of two songs that did make it onto the record. It’s curious that these older songs reveal more variety of style and tone than the band’s two full length albums, which both adhere to a more classic and familiar bluegrass-tinged folk-ballad style. Perhaps at the time they recorded their first album, the band was striving to craft a cohesive sound and these quirky songs threw a wrench into that aesthetic. Having established themselves in the indie scene as a spirited, musically polished act to watch, they seem to be finding some freedom in exploring and releasing their canon without feeling a need to adhere to a specific approach.
The first track, “I Don’t Wanna Go Downtown Tonight” kicks off with a simple, charming, old-school twang in the classic style of a Hank Williams tune, but with a twenty-first century indie twist. The unison vocals are charmingly conversational, downplaying the boys’ singing chops, and seasoned with approximate whistling, evoking offbeat indie folk scenesters like The Moldy Peaches. The tone changes instantly on “Wristwatch,” a gorgeous folk ballad, completely sparse with a single vocal line and guitar. The presentation sounds like a really, really good singer-songwriter demo rather than a fully realized band track. It’s a jarring shift, but the songwriting and vocal line are strong and captivating.
“Tweed” throws a huge curveball stylistically, introducing a sort of European cabaret sound with an unexpectedly theatrical vocal, almost like Billy Joel singing Jacques Brel. It’s an intriguing and beautiful song, although the juxtaposition is confusing. Lyrics like “all the skeletons in these closets and drawers, they’re full of sassafras and tweed” serve as the link to the world of Americana. With a simple, emotive, jazzy vocal line and solo piano, it sounds like a totally different artist.
Then the tone changes again with “New York,” a rollicking, cheeky little bluegrass tune. Vinocur and Dyer Wolf often remind me of the Avett Brothers’ duo dynamic, and the conversational style of the lyric here plays into that reference. It’s fun and funny, especially if you’ve lived in New York and/or LA and can relate to the inside jokes.
On live versions of “Submarines” and fan favorite “I’m Gonna Work On Maggie’s Farm Forever,” the band’s stellar musicianship takes focus. Everything the band does best is showcased: clean, captivating duetting guitar and banjo lines, searing harmonica solos, and the boys’ strong vocal harmonies where their idiosyncratic voices blend perfectly (some live audio balancing missteps notwithstanding). Vinocur writes on their website: “I had never been able to sing with anyone before Pat. I was terrible at it … but I didn’t even have to try to harmonize with him. I still sort of have a hard time believing how easy it still is.” That sort of encapsulates what’s so charming about the band in a nutshell: they are completely, authentically themselves, rooted in Americana influences, but always embracing their individuality.
The record seems to indicate that the band’s artistic identity is most clearly displayed in their live show. On An Even Longer Life of Living, they’re having fun, playing around with their eclectic musical influences, and shuffling through more ideas than one can often present on a cohesive, full-length album. It makes for exciting, unexpected listening, leaving the door open for the band to take any direction they may want next.