I had the great fortune of winning tickets from Easy Street Records to go see Black Prairie this past Thursday at The Triple Door here in Seattle. I would have gone to see them regardless, but needless to say, I almost never win anything – so I was incredibly excited. And the seats were fantastic.
Like many people, I heard of Black Prairie via The Decemberists, of whom I’ve been a fan for almost ten years now. Chris Funk (slide guitar, banjo, many other instruments), Nate Query (upright bass), and Jenny Conlee (accordion) are regulars in Black Prairie, but John Moen (drums) is also touring with them and contributed to their newly released CD “A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart.” So one might expect this band to resemble The Decemberists, but I was pleased to find that their sound and style are completely unique. Jon Neufeld (guitar) and Annalisa Tornfelt (vocals, violin) round out the group.
I’ve been gushing about the concert to my friends all weekend. And when I try to describe Black Prairie’s style, the best I can come up with is gypsy bluegrass, which hopefully doesn’t undeservingly confine what people might expect but rather pique their interest. Some songs miraculously mesh the two genres while others decidedly lean one way or the other. Regardless, there wasn’t a single song that didn’t have my attention. The instrumentation, harmonization, and stylistic qualities kept me hooked for the entire set. Annalisa Tornfelt’s voice is dreamy, and when she broke out a Stroh violin, I goggled at it. That is, until she started playing and I heard how perfectly the sound fit the song (think gramophone, maybe).
They started off the set with their own variation on the theme from the HBO show Game of Thrones, after which they jokingly admitted that they judged the badassness of their songs based on how they sounded while played with the opening credits for the TV series. This confession elicited quite a few laughs from the audience, including myself. The pieces following this ranged from instrumental ones including one written by Nate Query that built up to a raucous and cacophonous climax, to a song that reminded me of the bayou jazz I used to hear in New Orleans, to more vocal-centered songs like “Little Song Bird” and “What You Gave Me”. And let’s not forget the catchy single “How Do You Ruin Me” which you can download for free on their website here
May I just say how incredibly refreshing it is to see a group of such individually accomplished musicians who work together so well – and seem to truly enjoy what they create as a group. They constantly communicated with each other, mostly through eye contact, which is something that I believe shows an elevated level of ensemble. Many modern bands unfortunately lack this level of musicianship. This, in addition to the many positive qualities in Black Prairie’s music, makes me excited and hopeful about their future. I know they will maintain a heavy presence in my music rotation. And hopefully I’ve convinced you to give them a well-deserved listen.