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Review grab bag: Autumn Defense, Once Around; Rannok, Rannok; St. James Gate, We’ll Be Right Back . . .

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A trio of short short Driftwood reviews that have been floating about in the current for a while: Portland Brit-influenced prog-rock from St. James Gate, the famously side-projectness of Autumn Defense, and some Danish dance music from Rannok. 

Autumn Defense
Once Around
[Yep Roc (2010)]

Once Around is the fourth release by Autumn Defense, a collaboration between long-time Wilco bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, who has also been a Wilco member since 2004. Unlike the mother group’ s alt-country and experimental tangents, Autumn Defense’ s sound is basically finely crafted 60’ s vintage pop, with an obvious late period Beatles fetish rearing its head on tunes like “ Back of My Mind” and the title tune. The band puts on a convincing Byrds costume for “ The Swallows of London Town.” As pretty as these retro nods are, the band shines brightest when they are being themselves, with gorgeous song confections like the jangly “ Step Easy,” the anthemic chorus of “ Tell Me What You Want” and the wintry folk confection “Huntington Fair.”

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

Rannok
Rannok
[GO’ Danish Folk Music GO1210 2010]

Rannok is the Danish duo of fiddler Michael Fraubaek (of Trio THG) and pianist Juul Langlands (from Abild). The two offer up fresh interpretations of traditional Danish instrumental pieces mixed in with their own Danish, Finnish and Scottish inspired original compositions. Key to this recording is the variety of the arrangements, lively up-tempo dance tunes and bouncy polkas mixed are in with slower more melodic pieces where the piano takes center stage. The two musicians play with passion and intelligence and are obviously having a great deal of fun playing together. The music is all easily accessible and offers a refreshingly modern interpretation of Danish traditional music.

—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)

St. James Gate
We’ll Be Right Back . . .
[Self-issued (2009)]

This Portland quartet begins with an air that comes off as a prog-rock thing, which is reinforced by a note-for-note cover of Traffic’s arrangement of “John Barleycorn.” The Brit folk is followed by a long swing interlude: an original tune, a swing version of “Danny Boy,” three old-time tunes that … swing, a Fred Rose song full of triple steps. The mood abruptly shifts back to contemplative with a love song and a truly gorgeous cover of the Waterboys’ “When Ye Go Away.”

The uneven sound quality is explained by the liner notes’ admission to periodic recording over five years. Still, this band must be wonderful in a pub with a dance floor.

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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