Late March is the time of renewal. The time of the start of spring, the beginning of the baseball season and — this year, as it happens — the release of Sparks Like Little Stars, the impressive debut album by The Campfire Flies.
The band is made up of six veterans of the New Jersey indie-rock scene: John Baumgartner, Toni Baumgartner and Ed Seifert of Speed the Plough; Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried of The Cucumbers; and Matthew Davis of The Thousand Pities. They are not leaving behind their other artistic endeavors, but have developed this new band over the last couple of years and, after presenting numerous shows in New Jersey and New York, have put together this self-produced album. (A record release concert will take place at Fox and Crow in Jersey City, March 31.)
Everybody in the bands sings and plays multiple instruments. There are no drums and, in addition to the usual guitars, bass and piano, kaleidoscopes of sounds are added to the songs by instruments such as Toni Baumgartner’s flute, recorder and clarinet, John Baumgartner’s accordion, Fried’s banjo, Seifert’s mandolin, and lots of layers of vocal harmony.
Shoshkes, Seifert, Davis and John Baumgartner all write and sing lead, and push the band in different directions. This is oversimplifying it, maybe, but Shoshkes tends to be folky and plainspoken, while Seifert favors crisp, catchy indie-pop, and Davis and John Baumgartner are more on the moody, atmospheric side of the musical spectrum.
But the bottom line is, The Campfire Flies do a lot of things on this album, and do them very well: Despite the homespun flavor, there is a lot of musical sophistication here.
I happen to believe that Bob Dylan & the Band’s The Basement Tapes (another album recorded, largely, without drums) is the greatest album ever made, as well as one that few bands, ever, have tried to imitate. While it’s unfair to compare this effort to that one, I do find many of the same qualities here: The warmth of the singing, the musical variety, the sturdiness of the songwriting, and the occasional sense of mystery in the lyrics.
The Campfire Flies’ record release concert for “Sparks Like Little Stars” takes place at Fox and Crow in Jersey City, March 31 at 4 p.m., with Dave Weckerman of The Feelies opening. Visit thecampfireflies.com or foxandcrowjc.com.
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