Ley Line Marry Folk and World Sounds with Shimmering Harmonies on ‘We Saw Blue’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Ley Line is a group that came together at the Telluride Folk Festival in 2013. It is described as “miltilingual folk”, which sounds like the title of a Putumayo collection. It is a correct if incomplete description. The music of the group is based in world folk but goes much deeper than just that. 

The group’s previous album Field Notes was a compilation of original songs and Brazilian folk songs. Brazil seems to hold a special place with this group, serving both as inspiration for songs and backdrop for video shot to accompany a new album. Their new album We Saw Blue carries a lot of Brazilian influence, but also incorporates other international influences.

You don’t have to wait long to see that multilingual folk is a good description for this band. The opening track “To the Sky” opens with English lyrics before moving to Portuguese and French. The melody is mellow and features some muted horns. The beat, meanwhile, may not be enough to get you stomping your feet on the floor, but it is enough to get you swaying. 

As you listen, you can’t predict what comes next, whether in the lyrics or the melody. The melodies sometimes sound like what would happen if Tom Waits joined Manu Chao. They are irregular and unpredictable with a distinct Latin feel.

While the multilingual lyrics are interesting, the layered melodies are even more interesting. “The Well” is a good example. This song features acoustic guitar, muted horns, and the Latin rhythm that you hear throughout the album. Meanwhile, the four vocalists harmonize and bring their own layers to the song. It’s complex, impressive, and beautiful.

There is a lot going on in these songs. It is a folk album with a lot of international influences (the group even sings some Spanish lyrics in “Oxum”), elements of jazz and Latin music. While the album doesn’t include any bluegrass sounds, it has one thing in common with bluegrass with an importance on harmony vocals that is similar to bluegrass. Without knowing how the album was recorded, it’s easy to imagine the four vocalists in this group harmonizing around one microphone just like an old-time bluegrass band.  

This album is unpredictably beautiful. From one song to the next, you don’t know what the instrumentation or the language of the lyrics will be. What you do know is that you will hear layers of sound and vocals that make you wish you could sing half as well as any of the four members of the group. 

Credit-Simone Niamani

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