The New Mongrels - Raised Incorruptible | Album Review | By Volume

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The New Mongrels

Raised Incorruptible

“A folk album that doesn’t assume beyond the happiness of reviving, maintaining, and re-working tradition.”

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Author: on January 16, 2014

The New Mongrels are a concept band. But unlike cartoon characters or making the musical equivalent to hijacking a lock of The Boss’ hair, New Mongrels are a collective that focus on family and the possibilities of hermeneutical history…or something. Haynes Brooke leads his band of merry followers who take up the torch of Brooke’s great-grandfather, Henry. A civil war vet, Henry Brooke organized the Smythe County Mongrels Society — also known as a bunch of guys drinking cider around a table while they bang out some melodic and rhythmic accompaniment to the Psalms. Apparently the Smythe County Mongrels Society mission statement read something like this: “the joyful promotion, through song and rhythmic utterances, of a unified moral code for all creatures.” It’s an intriguing bit of personal oral history that sheds some light on casual societal pleasures when historicity so often falls victim to peaks (war) and valleys (defenestration); but even more, this code spans across generations and encompasses much of the thematic and aesthetic continuum on New Mongrel’s third release, Raised Incorruptible.

It’s a pretty album, one that definitely feels homey and folky in a way that is so very far from the hip indie folk dominating a lot of alternative-but-kind-of-mainstream radio airwaves. This is your small town folk festival side stage kind of folk. I don’t mean that in derision at all — there’s a staying power to this kind of music, the kind that engenders feelings of community, of kitchen parties and campfire melodies. Often we think about the difference between good and bad albums (such simple terms!) as being intrinsically tied to individuality, of finding voice or that face which sets one album or band apart from the pack. I think this mostly remains true, but the most interesting aspect of Raised Incorruptible is its wholehearted commitment to the idea of a communal song. A song that anyone can sing and everyone does. It’s worth noting that this is the kind of music that isn’t meant to highlight its players, even though there are some interesting ones on this album: Haynes Brooke has appeared in films such as Contact and Fried Green Tomatoes, and the band boasts two members of Indigo Girls, and Laura Hall, who’s famous for letting Wayne Brady do that one joke over and over again on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The communal code of ethics, then, is audible. Haynes Brooke may be the leader of his band, but his voice only really comes to the forefront on the third track, the eponymous single. Instruments saw and weave into these compositions with an improvisational twang. But that’s a different thing from ramshackle, because this is an impeccably organized and thought-out album that generates something like a mill-flow: slow, tumbling, and serene. Yes, old-timey images abound, but instead of being manufactured, or just as bad, manufactured play, New Mongrels seem only concerned about creating a particular style of music to the best of their ability. And often that ability is tailored to the pretty and neo-pastoral, like the wonderful accordion, harmonica, and violin interplay on “Love It Madly” that gives way to a whimsical trumpet solo in the song’s coda. The word “authenticity” seems to linger at the tips of my fingers as I type away at this review; such a word, however, over and above the problem of its potential to actually exist, betrays Raised Incorruptible by suggesting a mantra. There is no mantra here beyond the familial (both genetic and communal), of passing down tradition and letting that tradition mold and wrangle into new directions as deemed fit by its inheritors.

The result is a folk album that does not assume much beyond the happiness of reviving, maintaining, and re-working tradition. Again, this is different from forcing “authenticity,” because that’s not what Raised Incorruptible is all about. And in any case, none of this would matter if the album lacked any musical teeth. There are weak moments in the fourteen song cycle, to be sure, but these are more often than not overshadowed by passages of great beauty. Luckily the album leaves you with one of these one-two punches: the lilting violin melodies that take over the second half of the gorgeous “Two Trees” melts away into the instrumental piano ballad closer “Tuborg Gold”. The album closes on a pretty and unassuming note. It’s something like a take-what-you-will moment, which might summarize the experience of Raised Incorruptible. It’s a welcomed breather in a time, for me, when music seems to be bracing itself into a wall of particular aesthetics — where differentiation becomes a matter of production choice. That in itself is intriguing, but every once in a while it’s nice to have music that seems just as relaxed as you might want to be.

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