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The Wayback Machine 

Horse Feathers goes back to the future, forward to the past

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My apologies, Mr. Vonnegut: Portland’s Justin Ringle has come unstuck in time.

With one foot planted in the roots of American folk music and the other poking around in its future, Ringle straddles the line with his band, Horse Feathers — a band with both anachronistic and modern musical sensibilities.

Of course, calling it “folk” is the first problem, Ringle says: “My music is not truly folk music. It can’t be unless it has some kind of tradition, some kind of historical reference point. It’s really pop music with folk instrumentation, folk motifs.”

Rooted neither in the past or the present, Horse Feathers is a strange artifact, spinning free from the restraints of linear time.

“The immediacy of folk music is so

powerful — people can pick up a guitar and play almost anywhere in the world. I love the aesthetic of acoustic instrumentation, the nostalgic element that’s inherent in it. When you play music, you have the ability to break the mold of time,” Ringle says.

His band’s music is ethereal, quiet and haunting — music that wouldn’t have sounded out of place 60 years ago in a Kansas dustbowl. But Ringle is quick to warn against recreating the sounds of the past, saying that bands that do are “only indebted to the past … They’re stuck in time. I am cherry-picking the emotional capacity of the style or the intimacy inherent in these instruments. But I do want it to sound like it’s my own.”

But can a revivalist with an old sound have a place in modern music?

Ringle considers his outlook, his views both past and future to be his calling card, a postmodern embracing of the past as both something to be treasured and to be altered, saying, “There’s so much more room to be original by being backwards-looking than by trying to make something new in a progressive way.

“I would love to witness a Delta blues player playing on his porch or see a bluegrass band somewhere in the Appalachians in 1950. But I am also rooted in the present. There’s no way I could make a living doing what I do now back then.”

Necessary pragmatism. So it goes.

Horse Feathers plays with Hey is for Horses at the Empyrean on Monday, Nov. 9, at 7 pm. Tickets: $5. All-ages. Call 838-9819.


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