Review :: Drakkar Sauna, "rover"

Thursday, January 15, 2004

If you went to Winfield's Walnut Valley Festival last October, you may have stumbled across three straw-hatted gentleman caterwauling with a harmophone, upright bass and guitar. Those men Jeff Stolz, Wallace Cochran and Chris Kuhlman compose Drakkar Sauna, one of Lawrence's most outlandish new bands.

Taking a cue from antediluvian folk music recordings like Harry Smith's anthology or, more recently, The Louvin Brothers, Drakkar Sauna plays old-time folk ballads with a rough-around-the-edges charm and a whole lotta charisma. They're not the greatest singers nor the greatest musicians, but that was never really the point of folk music anyways, right? This ain't yer Kingston Trio hogwash it's music for the weirdo in all of us.

Relying on a smorgasbord of acoustic instruments guitar, upright bass, mandolin, pump organ, kazoo, tambourines and clickity-clack percussion Drakkar Sauna crashes through titles like "How to Approach an Accident Victim," "Song of Serious Injury" and this reviewer's favorite: "O, F*ck, I'm f*cked. F*ck." Cochran and Stolz share lead vocals on most of the cuts, harmonizing with varying degrees of success. The waltz is the weapon of choice for the majority of the album, powered by the percussive pump of the harmophone and weepy mandolin licks.

Like Beck's early folk recordings, Drakkar Sauna often incorporates strange imagery and backwoods mysticism into it's lyrics. "O, God, I Have a Canoe" features memorable lines like "All the bears are out of the zoo / They're coming to kill us if we don't go soon." Bears show up again on the surprisingly lovely "Spear for When the Bear Comes," a hushed number that offers the following pearl of wisdom: "You need a spear for when the bear comes / Or a spear for when the bears come / Either way you'll need one."

As a whole, the album is well-paced and diverse. The voice-stretching waltzes are packed into the first half, while the latter portion of the record goes for a more low-key approach with fingerpicked acoustic guitar, cello and the distant chirp of crickets.

Whether "Rover" will circulate amongst a small circle of discerning ears or find a wider audience remains to be seen, but the group's spirit is captured well on this quirky debut album.