(Self-released, CD, digital download)
It can be hokey, if not just plain lazy, to refer to any work of art or artist brand as “timeless.” But sometimes you’ve got to bite that bullet. No Kingdom, the latest release from Brattleboro’s Sam Moss, is a timeless record. With the exception of a track called “Television,” you might easily assume that these eight songs were penned on the far side of 1920. And yet they are new.
It’s a rare thing these days to come across an artist capable of channeling The Anthology of American Folk Music this well while still somehow remaining modern. But Sam Moss has done this and done it very well.
No Kingdom opens with the chaotic crashing of steel strings. The song is called “Ocean,” and the intent is clear: The ocean in question is a stormy one. That is, until Moss’ soft, crooned vocals enter and bring calming relief. The chaos/calm duality of “Ocean” is produced organically with multiple string instruments — here, guitars and mandolin — all played by Moss and is almost jarringly effective.
“Hammer,” the album’s second track, brings to light the gentler side of Moss’ demeanor. Over a sweeping violin line that’s reminiscent of John Cale’s viola on Nick Drake’s “Fly” — and, yes, played by Moss himself — Moss sings classically folk-inspired lines: “Find me a hammer, I’m ready to swing/Find me a nail, I want to make that metal sing.” The folk canon connotations are endless here, but his subtle delivery brings something novel to the metaphor. Where Peter, Paul and Mary sang out in protest, Moss wonders and reflects.
From the lonesome waltz of “Fog” (“I still don’t think it was a waste of time/But to find you gone feels like the right thing”) to the dark, gospel-tinged “Son” (Are you troubled, my son? Are you troubled, my son?”), Moss composes and performs songs that are stunningly appropriate to New England’s history, and climates, but you rarely hear the likes of them. The closest comparison might be Vermont’s Sam Amidon. The key difference between the two is that, while Amidon tenderly translates and interprets folk songs of the past, Moss writes his own tender folk history.
No Kingdom is not a folk-revival record. Or a freak-folk record. Or an indie-folk record. Or any other folk hybrid genre. Rather, it is simply a new folk record, and a beautiful accomplishment.
No Kingdom by Sam Moss is available at sammoss.bandcamp.com.