by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & J & lt;/span & ustin Ringle is something of an old soul. When describing highlights from his first national tour last year with brother-sister duo Peter and Heather Broderick, the man behind the band Horse Feathers recounted the stunning setting of Vermont in the fall. It was October, which just happened to be the peak time for the infamous fall foliage you see pictured on Vermont postcards. The venue on this particular evening was a rural church built in 1810, which, remarkably, stands untouched by modern technology. Fans gathered in this rustic, small space, and watched the three perform by gaslight (and probably gleaning new appreciation for "Hardwood Pews," the opening track of their debut album, Words Are Dead).
That old church packed with 20-somethings says something about the music itself. The heart of Horse Feathers is the utility of old in the stoking of fires and stirring of souls. It's the brilliant melodies on strings both warm and bright, developing an intimate musical space that allows listeners to feel the construction of the songs -- the violin flowing in as a partner to the vocals, the cello as a steady undercurrent -- and the lack of filler and fluff, that brings the music to life. Ringle's lyrics, drawn from his own experiences but broadened for the interpretation of the listener, are nothing of the "nonsense" meant by the name of the band.
Horse Feathers began as a solo act at open-mic nights in Portland. Ringle, a Lewiston native, moved to the area after attending the University of Idaho. Peter Broderick, acclaimed for his collaboration with Norfolk & amp; Western, Dolorean, and more recently, She & amp; Him and M. Ward, heard a recording of Ringle and tracked him down. The pair went on to record Words Are Dead in 2006, creating their signature string-heavy sound. While in New York City on tour last year, they were signed to seminal indie label Kill Rock Stars.
The new album, House With No Home, adds the female voice (and additional strings) of Heather Broderick and a little more percussion. As Ringle explains, it "picks up where Words Are Dead left off, mood-wise. It's more arranged, more dense ... there's just a different energy. The tempos aren't quite as slow."
The vocals are also a little more pronounced with this album, incorporating more group singing. "Working Poor" is a good example -- the banjo opens up the song to a barrage of sound, in a tempo that is clearly in no hurry but has definite movement, with group vocals flooding the spaces with light, almost pixie-like backup harmonies. For a band of only three, it's a pleasantly full sound.
That's not to say that the band has lost its basic properties of intimate lo-fi folk. Just listen to the opening lines of "Helen" -- you'll find that Ringle still gives you the feeling of someone gently tapping you on the shoulder, singing right next to your ear to pull you in, then backing up to make way for the layers of strings and additional voices. Even if your Horse Feathers listening experience happens while you're sitting alone in your apartment, there's a good chance you'll still feel like you're surrounded by warm, vibrant colors in their prime.
Horse Feathers at Whitworth's HUB on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 8 pm. Cost: TBD; free for students. Call 777-1000. Elizabeth Strauch works at Whitworth in Alumni Giving. She is in no way affiliated with the booking or promotion of this show.