- The Faux Paws, The Faux Paws
(Great Bear Records, CD, vinyl, digital)
The self-titled debut album from bluegrass and folk act the Faux Paws has some interesting pedigree. Brattleboro-based singer-guitarist Andrew VanNorstrand and his brother Noah both played in the successful contra dance act Great Bear, along with their mother, Kim Yerton. The third member of the Faux Paws, Chris Miller, also spent some time in Great Bear, as well as with Grammy Award-nominated Cajun-country act the Revelers.
The Faux Paws have actually been active since 2012 but hadn't been able to prioritize the project until this year — though they did release The Hurricane EP in 2018. By the sounds of The Faux Paws, it's a good thing they finally got around to making a record.
"Fourth Decade" kicks off the album with a bluegrass barnstormer and serves as an introduction to the trio's prodigious skill. The VanNorstrand brothers lay down dueling fiddles over rhythmic blasts of acoustic guitar and Miller's flowing banjo work. The tune has a "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" feel, occupying that bluegrass sweet spot where a collection of stringed instruments can create as much energy as a rock-and-roll rhythm section.
"She's Not Looking for You" offers advice for those experiencing unrequited love, including how to handle it gracefully. Witness this line: "Maybe there's no harm in asking / But when you get your answer / Gotta learn to let her be, cause lemme tell you / It's a long way from Browning to Great Falls and someone she can't wait to see." The Faux Paws want to let you down easy.
Effortlessly flowing from folk to jazz, the band makes a cohesive sound from a range of influences. "Child of the Great Lakes," a melancholy recollection of a childhood love, showcases Andrew VanNorstrand and Miller's beautifully harmonized vocals.
But some of the album's best moments are instrumental numbers. "Southport" is a thrilling, bluesy romp featuring foot stamps, claps, and a melody line that both fiddles and Miller's saxophone revel in with abandon. It's a virtuosic performance from the band, full of energy and drive.
Which is good, because there are a few moments when the album bogs down in the saccharine. "Anyelsewhere" has some nice flourishes but comes across strangely lifeless and maudlin. Lyrics such as "It's true I love you dearly / And it's true what they say, that we are slaves of the hourglass / Bound by the horizon, and the sun sets near on every day" seem to put out a hopeless romantic vibe that comes closer to evoking an eye roll than tugging the heartstrings.
It's only a momentary slip for the album, however. By the time the record closes with "Racing the Sun," the Faux Paws have put down a marker for their brand of clever, unpredictable tunes. Even allowing for the trio's glittering individual résumés and the fact that its members have played together for nearly a decade, the record is still an ear-catching debut.
Listen to The Faux Paws at thefauxpaws.bandcamp.com.