The Cave Singers‘ 2007 debut, Invitation Songs, was an understated bit of smoky, nu-folk. Vocalist Pete Quirk’s time in the punk outfit Hint Hint, and bassist Derek Fudesco’s sustained role in Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves lent the Seattle threesome press leverage, even if the sleepy campfire tunes didn’t always stand up to the challenge. The group’s heavy-lidded return with follow-up Welcome Joy sees them sticking to their guns but trading in Invitation‘s slower model for a slightly charged one. The trio’s also expanded to welcome the collaboration of Amber Webber (Black Mountain, Lightning Dust) and Ashley Webber (Lightning Dust).
Like fellow indie Dylanites, Deer Tick and The Tallest Man on Earth, Quirk does a spot-on impression of the Thin Man. Where Deer Tick wore out their welcome quickly, The Singers spin their forelorn yarns with the utmost patience. Quirk thankfully knows the limited range of his cracked quaver when he does reach its zenith on folk-rocker “At the Cut” or the skiffle-pop summer lament “Hen of the Woods.” He pawns it off as an imperfection as endearing as the crackle and warmth of a bonfire or well-worn 7-inch.
Despite Quirk’s engaging Americana-styled histrionics, Welcome Joy locks into a jangly mid-tempo rut. It almost becomes laughable when “Beach House” and “Leap” seem to have just sped-up or slowed down versions of the group’s characteristic lead guitar riff. The Singers do the best with the materials they’ve got though. From the dusty fingerpicking opener “Summer Light,” to the title track’s bluesy shuffle dénouement, Quirk’s fellow players know their place in the Northwest’s folk scene glut.
They don’t try anything fancy lyrically, either, instead opting to retread old tropes such as dusty roads, ol’ riverside rendezvous, beer-can pyramids, lightning bolts and thunder, and battered highway signs. On the two-stepping harmonica busker “Leap” or the minimal tambourine gospel of “Townships” they rend hearts but trace ground well-tread by more capable hands. But for all the disparagement regarding vanilla songwriting, The Singers do happen to slip in one curveball with the Middle Eastern-style tabla rock, “Shrine.” The entrancing guitar line coils and wafts over the listener’s head like a roomful of incense.
Although the album is undoubtedly a more polished production than is Invitation Songs, the percussion is obfuscated by a watery and murky mix. The Singers still retain that rustic country charisma, for better or worse. They’ll continue to churn out their songs from their imaginary sunken porch with little fanfare but, thankfully, not a lick of the pretension that pervades modern indie music.