If you think of banjos and the kinds of music they are used in, you would be forgiven for conjuring images of sweaty hillbillies in dirty chequered shirts and denim jeans torn at the knee, picking dixie dittys between swigs of moonshine bourbon and singing slurred songs about how their woman has left them. It’s an image perhaps synonymous with the banjo sound. But this summer, one indie folk outfit have reinvented the wheel and given the banjo a modern facelift.
Luray are a quintet fronted by Shannon Carey who plays the aforementioned banjo. For those recognising the surname you would indeed be right: she is the sister of Bon Iver’s Sean Carey who helped produce the album. However don’t be fooled into thinking she is trading off the name. What Shannon Carey has created with Luray is her own sound and her own identity.
The simple fact of the matter is that no one out there is playing banjo led indie at all, let alone banjo led ethereal indie. They describe it as ‘atmospheric bluegrass’ which is probably about right.
The opening title track with its slowly soaring synth lines creates a gloriously serene backdrop before the gentle plucking of Carey’s banjo leads the charge. It is tantamount to the style of the whole album itself, and it works a treat.
Crucially the folk influences haven’t been left behind, and there are teases and snippets of the traditional sound, but all swathed in a forlorn air of character and epic majesty. This is none more evident than on Promise of Lakes which you expect to launch into a full on assault of finger pickin’ good Americana before it is all brought back down into a gorgeous swaying tune conjuring images of early morning strolls on the shores of misty lakes in forgotten corners of the world. It’s lovely stuff.
The only downside is Carey’s vocals which lack clarity, and at times make it difficult to decipher her lyrics, which is a shame considering the music lends itself to some poetical stories of love and loss rather well. She can sing, and her voice is wonderful, but it’s a little muffled.
There can be no doubt that what Luray are doing is entirely their own, and have achieved that ‘Chamber Americana’ sound they are gunning for with real gusto. There may indeed be no other band doing more for reinventing traditional folk sounds to a modern audience right now, which, given that this is their debut release is even more impressive. Hopefully this will be a sign of things to come.