Cranford Hollow is one of those bands who are uniquely American in every way. The band originally began life in 2011 as a tradition-minded quartet who revamped classic country and bluegrass sounds into a vibrant modern context, but the band gradually shifted direction over the course of five albums and innumerable live appearances into something much more uniquely their own. Perhaps it was the addition of lead guitarist Yannie Revnecke that propelled them from more retro minded fare towards a broad-based sound that never forsakes the band’s roots. It is, however, unlikely that alone. Instead, Cranford Hollow’s metamorphosis from their aforementioned beginnings into what they are on the latest album Color/Sound/Renew/Revive is the probable result of a band simply developing over time, exploring new textures, and challenging themselves with distinctly different fare than they have on preceding works. The eight songs on Color/Sound/Renew/Revive work because they are well-written, but even well written songs fall flat thanks to the lack of commitment from the performers involved. There’s no lack of commitment here. Cranford Hollow means it.
The languid tempo of “Songfield” should never be mistaken for a lack of urgency. There’s a subtle undercurrent of various emotions lending this song impetus – much of the electric guitar work and underlying acoustic guitar playing seems tense, crackling with unnamed longing. The band’s chief vocalist and songwriter, John Cranford, delivers an engaging performance full of grit and guile. It’s also infused with a sharp poetic edge thanks to his talents as a wordsmith – moreover, it’s a disciplined talent and there’s not a single extraneous word used to make the song’s point. “Long Shadows” doesn’t ramp up the tempo in a noticeable way, but Cranford Hollow show off their penchant for weaving a variety of tempos together into a coherent whole. Eric Reid’s fiddle playing is one of the driving forces behind this track and the band keys much of their focus based on what he’s doing. The guitar work in this song might be mistaken for ornamental, but it’s much more than that. Cranford Hollow isn’t the sort of band who layer tracks with unnecessary parts and the six string songs added here fuel the song with surfeit of color.
“Bury It Down” foregoes the band’s electric edge, for the most part, in favor an acoustic approach thankfully maintaining the same musical intensity. There’s some steel guitar creeping into the track during its second half and fills the arrangement with just the ghostly echoes required by a song so titled. The band’s vocal harmonies are another key component of their success. “And Your, Brutis” opens with some surprising, nearly prog rock, keyboard and synth explorations before settling into a highly individualistic groove. Lead guitarist Yannie Revnecke stands out here with his unique balancing act between guitar heroics and artful restraint. Some of the band’s wont for risk taking comes out on the album’s penultimate cut “Dark Turns” and the rare hybridization of traditional music with a very modern point of view emerges more strongly from this instrumental than any other on the album thus far. Color/Sound/Renew/Revive represents a quantum leap forward for the band’s songwriting and presentation, but it is also a mightily entertaining work and deeply rewarding.