Supraluke, ‘Songs for the Great Blue Heron’ | Album review | Seven days

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  • Supraluke, Songs for the Great Blue Heron

(self-produced, CD, digital, vinyl)

The Strangefolk diaspora continues to generate interesting offshoots. Formed at the University of Vermont in 1991, the Burlington jam band has spent that decade becoming one of the genre’s biggest regional bands. They even scored Chic’s Nile Rogers to produce their 2000 album, A very long time.

The 2000s brought changes for Strangefolk, as co-founder and leader Reid Genauer left to form Assembly of Dust. Although Strangefolk is officially on hiatus, the original lineup is still playing together at its Garden of Eden festival and other occasions. For the most part, however, the best way to hear Strangefolk music these days is through the band members’ various side projects.

Which brings us to Supraluke – Strangefolk drummer Luke Smith’s first tour as a singer-songwriter – and his psychedelic-leaning folk album, Songs for the Great Blue Heron. Recorded with producer Ben Collette at Tank Recording Studio in Burlington, the album’s 11 tracks form an impressive and cohesive debut album.

A common thread of nature worship runs throughout, almost as if Smith is offering a prayer to the beauty of his surroundings. The opener “Blessings” is full of leisurely chord progressions over a soft, drawling beat as Smith sings “Float me down the river / Roll me to the deep blue sea / You’ll see.” His performance is reminiscent of a monk intoning holy words.

The theme continues in “Circles of Sound,” a track that hits an eerie area similar to The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden”: part offbeat folk rock, part drug-induced children’s song.

Smith creates or records the majority of sounds on Songs for the Great Blue Heron, which include water and wind; he learned to play the guitar during the pandemic. He demonstrates both versatility and an intelligent ear for a melody. Many fellow Strangefolk also came to help, including co-founder and guitarist Jon Trafton and bassist Erik Glockler.

Smith’s songwriting is more sophisticated than one would expect from a debut album. While the album drags a bit as Smith delves into rougher, less interesting territory – like on “When You’re Through” – those moments are more than made up for by trippy, pastoral folk jams such as “Hoot” and full-fledged indie rockers such as “Hard to Tell.”

Although he doesn’t necessarily have a powerful voice, Smith does well as a singer with a ’90s indie rock genre, much like Matthew Sweet. In effect, Songs for the Great Blue Heron feels more indebted to this style, along with 70s folk rock, than anything found in the jam band’s work.

Sonically, it’s a fabulous record. Collette and Smith opted for a classic production style, full of warmth and taste. They bathe Smith’s songs in layers of psychedelic swirls when called upon (“Meet You”) and work in the sounds of nature on others (“Home Again”). In an interview with jambands.fr, Smith said he set out to make a record that felt like the classic albums of his childhood. “Ideally,” he said, “anyone looking for that classic vinyl-based experience … will enjoy the psychedelic soundscapes we’ve created.”

Overall he succeeded. Songs for the Great Blue Heron is an intriguing and pleasantly soaring record with promising writing. Listen to it on supraluke.bandcamp.com.

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