There was a time not too long ago when the alt-country scene, the one documented so carefully by the magazine No Depression, was constantly referred to as a ghetto — a place where artists were able to carve out a place for themselves, but a place they’d never quite be able to escape, either. That’s changed a little in recent years, first with the relatively large-scale success of Iron and Wine, and now with acts like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Bowerbirds. There’s an increased tolerance, or a thirst, even, among young music fans for the rickety, soulful sounds these bands churn out, and it will be interesting to see how far it extends, how much of a real, discernable movement it might become.
One artist carrying on in a similar style is Matt Bauer, a Kentucky native who landed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with his haunting indie-folk in tow. His songs are outstanding, driven by acoustic guitar and banjo, most notably, and accented with accordion, violin, Wurlitzer, pedal steel and occasional drumming. There’s a sparseness that pervades his debut, The Island Moved in the Storm, and it makes for an unsettling but immediately compelling listen. Bauer’s lyrics are sneaky good, utilizing naturalistic imagery and deft turns of phrase that are sometimes obscured by his vocal delivery, which is the one thing worth complaining about here: He sounds so much like Richard Buckner, all quavering and breathy, that one can’t help but wonder if it’s not at least partially put on. With songs this good, though, it’s a minor gripe, for sure.