[CD Review] The Traditionist, 'Season to Season' (Better Looking/Banter)

If you’ve ever doubted the staying power of old-school country, take a look at all the youngsters embracing it lately. Ben Kweller is touring behind a country record, Steve Earle’s son has made two albums that stay truer to the genre than his father ever did, and Fueled By Ramen act Days Away has segued into the country-folk troupe Good Old War. Likewise, Huntington Beach’s Joey Barro has traded in the Antiques’ 1960s-influenced rock for the mellower, rootsy output of his new project, the Traditionist.

Season to Season isn’t the biggest stylistic leap, since many Antiques songs hinted at a love of folk, but the snap and twang of “Only a Nightmare” will still turn heads. Flush with organ and topped with plaintive vocals, the song’s gait could only come from country’s DNA. What follows is arguably the album’s centerpiece, the 15-minute one-two of “Driftwood Doll” and “Make Believe Tree.” The former starts with an acoustic guitar and is only faintly shaded with fuller instrumentation later, putting Barro’s yearning front and center. The latter does the opposite, with waves of sound rumbling low in the mix while Barro whispers lyrics amid the ever-shifting experimentation.

Both succeed, and a radio edit of “Driftwood Doll” would make for a swell single, but other songs here are more palatable. The too-short “Satchel Paige” has a fun hillbilly feel that underscores its catchiness, while the full-band “Answer Phone” has Stones-y cool to burn, and “A Sleep Be Told” twinkles with easygoing prettiness. Barro has secured solid backing here, and it’s exciting to learn that Superchunk’s Jon Wurster drummed on the already-recorded follow-up. But Barro isn’t beholden to his many collaborators, and he’s at his best when playing fast and loose with his songs’ arrangements.

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