It makes perfect sense that Frontier Ruckus' debut LP would be released during the waning days of autumn. More so than any other group in the current Ann Arbor folk scene, this band's music evokes ruddy cheeks, frosty breath "smoke" and the encroaching darkness of post-Daylight Savings Time in the Midwest. What's remarkable about this seasonal invocation and what separates it from emotionally heavier turns by bands like Red House Painters or Son Volt, however, is the sense of genuine excitement that cuts strongly with the autumnal nostalgia.
It's rare to hear such honest, poetic and romantic lyrics that aren't sagging under the weight of a lifetime of pathos. There's youthful hope in singer Matt Milia lyrics throughout this album. On "Dark Autumn Hour," a fever-dream worthy of Bob Dylan, he declares he has "smiled from his sleep to douse the terror of this hour." And the cursing against his Michigan hometown of Rochester on "Orion Town 2" is more exasperated than it is bitter. He ruefully remembers "a tumult of aching" and "the awkwardest of moments" of his life.
While backing Milia, the rest of the band keeps the orchestration lush and tight. There are occasional peaks of sonic release, but largely, they favor a steady gait through their rough-hewn folk arrangements, along with some stellar bluegrass and hootenanny flourishes, courtesy of Davey Jones' banjo and Zach Nicols' singing saw.
It's not often that a band so easily fits into the prerequisites of traditional music without getting bogged down in histrionics. No, Frontier Ruckus' rustic scrawl is all its own. And this debut establishes the group as already one of the very best sounds to come out of Michigan this entire decade.
Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].