The first smash-hit single known to man was “Sumer Is A-Cumin’ In” all the way back in the twelfth century. If you found yourself swigging ale in any pub back in those days, you were sure to hear madrigal singers bust out that song-in-the-round. Nearly a millennium later, Winter Flowers is trying to bring Sumer back. Or at least songs that sound a lot like it. The band goes way old school, reaching back a considerable distance for most of its inspiration.
If you’re still reading, and if you give the Winter Flowers’ self-titled debut more than one cursory listen, you’ll find an appeal that extends beyond music majors with a jones for Ren fairs. In our turbulent times, there’s definitely space for gentle, lilting throwback music. Like the song “End of the War.” Whether or not the oft-repeated title is supposed to be taken literally, the tune is a hopeful, pretty little ditty that will likely lodge itself comfortably in your head.
Like current folk troubadour guru (and friend/champion of Winter Flowers) Devendra Banheart, the Flowers show a penchant for an innocent, childlike wonder infused with animism. Opener “Misty Morning Land” (which may bring to mind Zep’s “Misty Mountain Hop,” but, trust me, all the led is definitely out of this much lighter composition) tells of a world of gardens at dawn. “Ivory Path” is full of crickets and nightingales. “Why Don’t You Shine” is very much like the Sunday school staple “This Little Light of Mine.” And a late section of the album heads out to sea, with a cover of Donovan’s “Isle of Islay” and the original “Sea Song.”
At times, though, Winter Flowers goes a little too far up the baroque barometer. The only thing that can be said about the way-too-literal “Country Fair” is huzzah! And on “Too Young to Marry,” the band’s female vocalist, Astrid Quay (with backing assistance from fellow Los Angeles folk-rock scenesters Mia Doi Todd, Miranda Lee Richards, and Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond) hams it up in her role as the distressed lass.
But more winners abide on the album than misfires, including the lovely instrumental “Sixteenth Street Sunset” and closer “Christ Bird,” with its simple piano chord pattern and two-part harmonies. With so many bands afflicted with tunnel vision that hones in on late-’70s post-punk, it’s nice to come across a group with a much longer view of music history.