Recommended Concerts: River Whyless at Ludlow Garage (Aug. 25)

On the June-released 'Kindness, A Rebel,' the Asheville group incorporates familiar elements of Country, Folk and Bluegrass into a transformational hybrid that suggests a sonic philosopher’s-stone treatment akin to the Grateful Dead and Avett Brothers.

Aug 21, 2018 at 9:00 am

click to enlarge River Whyless - Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez
River Whyless
From its Asheville, N.C. home base and three-guys-and-girl-in-jeans-and-T-shirt visage to its guitar/violin/etc. instrumentation (OK, drums set them apart) and prototypical Appalachian State student origin story, on the surface, River Whyless would appear to be a standard issue Bluegrass band. It all screams, “Let’s pass the clawhammer and tell apocryphal tales of Bill Monroe hootenannies.” But like so many other cover-judged books, appearances can be deceiving.

From the opening strains of the quartet’s debut album, 2012’s A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door, to the final notes of its latest triumph, the June-released Kindness, A Rebel, River Whyless incorporates familiar elements of Country, Folk and Bluegrass into a transformational hybrid that suggests the same sonic philosopher’s-stone treatment used by the likes of the Grateful Dead, The Avett Brothers and The Samples. Even at its most ebullient, there is a haunting melancholy that hangs over River Whyless like an early morning fog, not dense enough to obscure, but palpable enough to feel. It’s a sensation evidenced in the band’s mournfully beautiful arrangements, as well as its thought-provoking lyrics (“Alone is the widow, the gulls and no mast to the east/And she’s the sheep he kept to stave off the grief/The pennies they saved only to place in her eyes/And the love that she gave to him and now she’s gone”).

River Whyless began six years ago when Appalachian State alumni Ryan O’Keefe, Halli Anderson and Alex McWalters were playing together in their adopted Asheville and were joined by friend/classmate Daniel Shearin. Kindness shows further sonic advances for the quartet, which plays with textures and technology as though they’ve been listening to Brian Eno in the van for the past couple of years.

Whatever the source of its inspiration, the members of River Whyless have shown, over a span of just two full-length records, that they possess a rare ability to recontextualize genre influence into a singular sound that is powerful, compelling and beautiful.

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