Birthed in one of the most fertile music scenes in the United States, Portland bluegrass-style band Black Prairie brought their fiddles and accordions to the East Coast Thursday night for a show at Rockwood Music Hall's wonderfully personal Stage 2. While four of Black Prairie's members are also in The Decemberists, the addition of guitarist Jon Neufeld and the vocals/fiddle of Annalisa Tornfelt provide a different feel than what you might expect. The band sounds perfectly happy to walk into the corner of Stage 2, sit in a circle and play songs until they fall over.
Their overall tone is lighter as well, with their Lennon-esque opening song, "Songs to be Sung" whisking one off to an autumn walk through orange, yellow and red leaves. Years of playing together has helped each musician realize their own "moments" within songs, all with a tight and layered melody.
With four albums to their name, Black Prairie's latest release, Fortune, is its most conventional offering to date. It features the aforementioned "Songs to be Sung," as well as their new single "Let It Out." What they do best, however, can be heard on their previous release Wild Ones, a mostly acoustic album that's an excellent representation of their amazing talent.
Jenny Conlee's accordian was subdued enough that the band avoided the cheese of full-on polka, even managing to sound heartbroken at times. Drummer John Moen is a varied animal, able to blend classic rock technique with the solemn nature of folk and roots music. Though Tornfelt's fiddle is excellent, she failed to stand out from the rest of the band.
The evening opened with another Portland native, Kristen Andreassen, playing her own folk tunes backed by a bass saxophone and patting herself on the knees, shoes and chest, like you'd see at an old fireside concert.
The little-side-project-that-could, Black Prairie has now evolved into its own entity with a fun, cheery sound that is highly accomplished even though it comes across as off the cuff.