String bands have become something of a rarity, but you can still find them. The Tillers is a string band from Cincinnati whose music is pretty well steeped in bluegrass as the band shows on its new self-titled album.
"Migrant's Lament" is an evocative song. The band tells the story of a migrant who wants nothing more than to work to earn a little pay so he can get on the road someday. Like Bruce Springsteen on Nebraska, the band does a great job of putting the listener in the shoes of the song's subject. Thematically, it has the feel of a Steinbeck story.
One of the great things about folk and Americana music it has long been a platform for political expression. Woody Guthrie is still known for his political lyrics 50 years after his death. The Tillers cover one of Guthrie's songs: "All You Fascists are Bound to Lose". This is very much a folk song, but it was recorded with a punk spirit. It is a high-energy, uptempo song. The energy is particularly noticeable in the fiddle and banjo as well as in the call-and-answer part of the chorus, which brings Old Man Markley to mind.
"Revolution Row" is another song with hard-hitting lyrics. No matter your beliefs, it's hard to ignore the lyrics, "I don't know but I've been told the streets up in heaven are paved with gold. That don't do me no damn good. Ain't no sign of heaven in my neighborhood." When you hear the powerful delivery of the lyrics in this song, it's hard not to think about Steve Earle.
"Riverboat Dishwashing Song" is a real throwback song. The intro - especially the fiddle - has the feel of an Irish folk song. This song tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who isn't old enough to get hired so he gets paid under the table to wash dishes on a riverboat until the day the riverboat springs a leak and sinks. This is a fun song with a good story, and it will make you wish you had as much joy for your job as the subject has for washing dishes.
This album is very well done. Technically the band shows tremendous ability picking their instruments. On top of that the band tells evocative stories that really make the listener feel the lyrics. If you're a fan of bluegrass, you'll get big doses of it. The only problem with this album is that at just 34 minutes, it's over too quickly. The Tillers (Sofaburn Records) will be available everywhere on March 23.