Three years ago, Chris Funk and Nate Query of the Decemberists gave birth to the skeleton of a melody, which they transcribed with talents of fellow band mate and accordion player, Jenny Conlee, Portland violinist Annalisa Tornfelt and guitarist Jon Neufeld.
Three years ago, Chris Funk and Nate Query of the Decemberists gave birth to the skeleton of a melody, which they transcribed with talents of fellow band mate and accordion player, Jenny Conlee, Portland violinist Annalisa Tornfelt and guitarist Jon Neufeld. It began on the road when Funk’s love for the Dobro guitar was on the rise and his conversations with Query led to the idea of starting a primarily instrumental bluegrass band.
Their sound has evolved into something a bit more eclectic and complex, however, as if they approach songwriting as composers rather than pop musicians. The result is a genuinely exciting album to both the music lover and the music critic.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Decemberists, it may be worth your time to give them a listen. With five full-length albums and over four EP’s, the Decemberists have played at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Monolith and all over Europe, spreading their delicious folksy vibe throughout the world.
Thus, Black Prairie honestly utilizes the term “side-project” as all members of the quintet play in other touring bands and only come together when in their home base of Portland. Alaskan native Tornfelt fiddles with Portland’s The Woolwines and, for years before that, played with Bearfoot Bluegrass. She turned the album around with her gently beautiful voice. Originally, the idea was to make it a completely instrumental album, but when Tornfelt sang, they had to make room for her vocals.
“We kept to the style of the rest of the album,” said Neufeld. “But she has such a great voice that we had to make a few songs for her to sing in like ‘Crooked Little Heart’, ‘Single Mistake’, and ‘Red Rocking Chair.'”
Neufeld plays with classic bluegrass group Jackstraw as well as The Kung Pao Chickens, who play live at the Laurelhurst Pub if you’re looking for some hot gypsy jazz and a cold brew. He moved to Portland over 13 years ago in search of an embracive music culture.
As well-traveled musicians, the five began writing songs together with the ease of professionals. Their debut album, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, was recorded back in December and is to be released April 6. It consists of two traditional tunes and 11 original tracks. Other than the few that Tornfelt sings on, they are all instrumental compositions.
“Ostinato Del Caminito” exhibits Black Prairie’s genre exploration as it begins with a deep driving riff written by the bassist, which alone could be the basis for a heavy metal tune. The violin rises like Fantasia waves, dancing with the offbeat guitar rhythms, which all together create an ancient yet intense soundscape, like some sort of neo-Baroque war ballad. Suddenly, the song breaks into a hush of slides and whispers like glowing footsteps of sound, only to return and end with a progressive Eastern European sound. The transformation of material is intrinsic to their style.
“The tunes come in as one thing,” Neufeld said. “Travel through the band, and come out as something more elaborate and completely different.”
The future of Black Prairie is promising. They hope to tour the country this summer, promoting their new album and they are eager to get back into the studio for some more recording time. The great unveiling, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, will be in stores April 6 on CD and vinyl.