Press for Lewis & Clarke - Bare Bones and Branches (2005 US Edition)
tinymixtapes.com review by Justin Spicer Review 4/5
"Let me stop you before you even think it -- this is not the famous duo that blindly trail blazed the American West. It's hard to imagine historic zombies rising from the dead, settling in rural Pennsylvania and recording an album. The picture is priceless, but the music may fall a little flat.
Thankfully, this Lewis & Clarke are far from being undead and the music far from being flat. In fact, the sounds that will emit from your speakers will sound fresh and invigorating. And though there will be no mentions of Sacajawea or the Missouri River, feelings of old west nostalgia may creep into your listening experience. Each track is a ride through the past, whether it's historical or biographical -- depending on the mood you project.
"Doc Holliday Was a Phony" would lend one to believe they're about to hear an abridged tale of the dentist-turned-gambler, when in fact the only tell tale sign of an era gone by may be the slick meanderings of guitar. The song slowly builds to its crescendo, as images of Doc Holliday riding into his next one horse town flicker throughout the brain. Lou Rogai chooses to leave Doc's story open-ended, allowing the listeners to affix their own meaning to each note and lyric. "No Name Disaster" allows the same desolation and desperation to seep out of each pores. The lazy slide guitar and dark melodies continue to produce imagery of ghost towns and gun fights. No mention of the themes present throughout the days of six shooters and cattle wranglers may exist within Bare Bones and Branches, but the sounds conjure up a world only Deadwood has been able to deliver.
An album as richly textured, yet as empty as Bare Bones and Branches may be a little hard to stomach for those not ready for a musical trip into the unknown. Upon the first few listens each song may feel familiar or worn out, but each trip back to the album uncovers a little more to the true mystery. Each go around the bend will yield something unfamiliar and unexpected. Old tricks are made new again with the delicate touch of Lou Rogai's imagination."
Exclaim review by Chris Whibbs
"Sure, it’s almost ridiculous how many singer-songwriters there are that hide their work behind a band name, but as long as they keep putting out listenable and interesting records, let them do their thing. Lewis & Clarke, or Lou Rogai to be more exact, treads the territory of Papa M and Iron & Wine very well, and to be on par with such talent should be a hint to the quality found on this album. Just look to the echoed slide guitar, slight piano and simple country-rock of “Bathtime Blues” to be given an indicator of Rogai’s talents. A serious pastoralist, Rogai apparently draws his inspiration from the coal regions found in Pennsylvania and the forest along the Delaware River and the music does have a lo-fi traditionalist style very similar to M. Ward, but with more emphasis on melody and a more complete song structure. Another highlight is “Dead and Gone,” which, with just some guitar strumming, a Rhodes piano and Rogai’s rough-hewn voice, easily shows that Lewis & Clarke have their own particular vision. It’s a well-trod genre, but with acts like Lewis & Clarke still surprising us with such simple, melodic insights, maybe we should all just make room for one more."
crowndozen.com review by Adam
"Without being consciously aware of it, Summer got away from me. It melted quickly, as though the past four months were no longer than a week or two. I somehow missed the domestic release of this gem of an album back in June, but really that’s okay. I can’t imagine enjoying it more than I do right now, as the air turns crisp and the leaves begin to fade. Bare Bones and Branches just might be the perfect album for autumn; combining rich acoustic picking with subdued yet melodic vocals, the barely-there notes of a Hammond B-3 or Rhodes piano, and some sweet sweet lap-steel. It’s got a very dusky (almost melancholy) vibe that’s the essence of Fall. There’s some genius production at work here as well, certain tracks carry an incredible lushness and fullness while others convey whispered restraint. This is the sound of leaves falling, the sight of rolling hills revealed through a lattice-work of barren branches, the scent of woodsmoke, moss on the northern side of a nearly-naked tree.
Autumnal associations aside, this is a sincerely brilliant piece of work. Mastermind Lou Rogai has brought together friends and acquaintances (including members of Coyote and An Albatross) to forge something unique, equal parts alt-country and chamber-folk, sophisticated yet rustic. “Bloody Coat” embodies this; with it’s wildfire rhythm and whip-smart lyrics it’s mournful enough to be sincere without losing any of it’s toe-tappin’ catchiness. Honestly, it’s one of the best songs of the year, and the rest of the album is no slouch either."
outsideleft.com review by Alex V. Cook
"I can actually play the hipster trump card of saying I was into Nick Drake before that VW commercial made him a Warhol stencil portrait signifying wistfulness, but not by much. A good, much cooler friend the summer before sent me a tape with Nick Drake, Chris Bell and Robert Wyatt on it, called to action by the alarming holes he discovered in my musical fabric, and I have to say, I’ve haven’t been the same since. It opened the world of singer-songwriters, parting the boring I-hate-hippies curtain that punk rock had raised on this genre which, come to find, has a knack for deeper seething and a sharper bite than any pincushion with a record deal out there. It’s an infectious thing, soft guitars and atmospheric recording and solo voices rising above quiet storms.
Pennsylvania’s Lou Rogai, operating with drummer Thomas Abrams and keyboardist Phillip Price under the Haight-Ashbury-tastic band name Lewis and Clarke, is my new favorite in this number. His warm rasp of a voice on Bare Bones and Branches resting in the thicket of drums and organ playing is a comforting delight to these ears, especially after this spate of avant-garde speed metal that has cross my desk as of late. His guitar intones like a bell at the commencement of the title track as the organ slowly fills the gaps with water, mirroring the repeated lines “You know I will let you in, when you are out of oxygen, blood is running thin” The air gets thicker as the album proceeds, with the busy but hushed drumming helping form the song “Doc Holiday Was a Phony” and the whole band comes together in a jaunt in “Bathtime Blues” a hazy slide-guitar infused dream that continues the breathing-underwater lyrical theme, as does the the doleful “Underwater, Man”
Last year, my favorite song was the strident guitar-n-harmony of The Owl and Pussycat’s “Don’t Play Me” and before that Iron and Wine’s “Up Over The Mountain” so I think this year it may be “Bloody Coat” off this album, with dueling slide guitar, scintillating fingerpicking and some of the kindest percussion to ever back up a singer. Really, the drums are often a deal-killer in this genre, when the producers keep pushing up the volume of the drums to make something a little more “rock” out of a song which has no natural inclination in that direction, and Price’s interesting and complimentary drumming on this album are to be commended.
Another beauty on this album is the deft guitar playing and double-tracked vocals and quiet seep of icy keys on “Dead and Gone.” Its an shining example of the fact that there is much uncharted territory to explore in this field of music, often-decried of all sounding the same. “Bare Bones and Branches” is a blast of fresh air, just like Gastr Del Soul was when I first heard them, just like Richard Buckner was, hell, like Grateful Dead was when I dropped my pre-existing resistance and listened to American Beauty for the first time with open ears (I will warn you, American Beauty is often a gateway drug into harder Dead usage, which I would not wish on anyone) I’m not saying that any of these artists sound like Lewis and Clarke (OK, maybe Richard Buckner, a little) but its all has the same underlying force to it. This album will get up in your head and curl up with your synapses if you let it in, giving your busy brain that buzz it sorely needs."
cokemachineglow.com review by David Greenwald
Lewis and Clark were explorers. With the endorsement of Thomas Jefferson and more than a little luck, they carved a path from one ocean to another and back again. The long, dusty journey of American folk music follows a similar trail: sweeping across decades and geography from the mountains of Appalachia to the California coast. Follow it for a while and you’ll notice forks --- from the wide road marked out by Bob Dylan and paved over by Peter, Paul and Mary and The Byrds; to tiny, unmarked paths leading up to the caves of strange, bearded hermits who go by the names Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy or Iron & Wine. Take the trail all the way to the end, and you’ll catch up with a new, unheralded expedition blazing away. Their name? Lewis & Clarke.
Ampersand and extra “e” aside, Lewis & Clarke share their namesake’s fascination with observing and recording the fruits of their travels. Their debut, Bare Bones And Branches, follows the path left by nomadic searchers like Elliott Smith and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Will Oldham, confident enough to muddy the footprints along the way. Somewhere along the line, the party (which consists of singer-guitarist Lou Rogai and his friends and family) stumbled upon the moody, atmospheric terrain rediscovered most recently by The Court And Spark and Oldham’s Ease Down The Road, and so Lewis & Clarke’s debut emerges from the forest lush and fleshed out.
Like their predecessors, Lewis & Clarke present a detailed log of their trek. Every nook and cranny of Bare Bones And Branches is inscribed with another guitar lick or effortlessly busy percussion. A Hammond organ adds texture to the title track’s picked guitars, which enter with familiar chords. “You know I will let you in,” Rogai assures with his thoughtful, unpolished voice. Falling somewhere between Smith’s longing high notes and Oldham’s idiosyncrasies, he already sings with a hint of the wavering rawness attained from too many nights on the road. The song’s coda finds him playing a vocal call-and-response with himself, one of the album’s many solo duets. He does so most harmonically on the sparse “Dead And Gone,” whose briskly strummed chords are just a whole step away from Smith’s “Angeles” (capo 3, capo 5), especially with the accompaniment of a lone organ tone. Elsewhere, “Bathtime Blues” offers a morbidly funny title for a plainspoken portrait of suicidal depression, with sympathy in metaphors: “You’re my broken record, skipping past the good parts / you’re the wound I could not heal.”
With the first leg of their voyage complete, the band has already penciled in a worthy addition to the folk music map. The songs are stretched to their fullest extents, occasionally meandering through long instrumentals as if to make sure nothing was missed along the way. Expeditions are always subject to wrong turns and missteps, but Bare Bones And Branches rarely strays. After their round trip, Lewis and Clark, explorers, returned home exhausted. For Lewis & Clarke, musicians, it sounds like they’re just getting started.
Delusions Of Adequacy review
Despite being named for the famous team of American explorers, Lewis and Clarke is neither a duo nor a group but the “musical collective” (read: stage name) of Pennsylvanian guitarist and singer/songwriter Lou Rogai. Though most of Lewis and Clarke’s debut album Bare Bones and Branches features full-band accompaniment, it feels very much like the statement of an individual, bearing a plaintive intimacy most often associated with the lone troubadour. Yet while Bare Bones and Branches is unmistakably the work of Lou Rogai, it may be more appropriately viewed as the collaborative effort of Rogai and the songwriters from whom he so clearly and extensively borrows - most notably Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley. The large-looming shadows of those deceased giants both push Bare Bones and Branches toward greatness and limit its reach.
The sound of Bare Bones and Branches conjures the works of many a melancholy singer/songwriter, but no influence has a clearer presence than Elliot Smith. The late master of gloomy beauty, intricate finger-picking, and pop classicism can be heard in almost every note of Rogai’s nine-song set. “Dead and Gone” - the starkest example of Rogai’s affinity for Smith - incorporates Smith’s ideas to an extent beyond stylistic influence, bordering on outright plagiarism. The song not only shares the haunted majesty of Smith’s “Angeles” but also nearly pilfers its finger-picked guitar line verbatim. Elsewhere, the introduction to “Bloody Coat” features the bouncy, picked acoustic guitar of Roman Candle-era Smith, while the rest of the song takes on a more elaborate arrangement that would fit nicely among Smith’s later, more polished efforts. In light of Rogai’s obvious admiration for Smith, it seems reasonable to assume that Rogai was cognizant of Smith’s “No Name” tracks (Nos. 1-5) when he penned “No Name Disaster” for his debut record.
Anyone blessed with even a passing familiarity with Smith’s recordings will find it nearly impossible not to hear him on Bare Bones and Branches. A meticulous listen to the record, however, will bring to mind the spirits of a host of other similar songwriters. “Bathroom Blues” has the subdued jangle-guitar of Joseph Arthur, while “Doc Holliday Was a Phony” and “No Name Disaster” each borrow their clean, graceful electric guitar and sweetly mysterious mood from Jeff Buckley. Though Rogai’s vocals sound unpolished (almost like spoken-word when contrasted with Buckley’s angelic tenor), his approach works well with his creations; by no means do the songs wallow in the territory of cheap imitation. Vocally, Rogai bears a striking resemblance to Dolorean, sharing the same plainspoken, contemplative tone and every-man style. Both singers share a knack for keeping their vocals understated without loosening their grip on the songs.
Bare Bones and Branches is something of a critic’s goldmine: an easy opportunity to impress readers with a game of spot the influence. Yet make no mistake, Bare Bones and Branches is also highly melodic, richly arranged, and extremely compact - an artistic statement nearly as impressive as it is cohesive. To equate unoriginal with uninspired would be to do a severe injustice to Lou Rogai and his excellent debut album; cries of “derivative” cannot doom this stellar record. Before he can fully emerge as a compelling personality, Rogai will have to shed the weight of his more prominent influences. For now though, this listener will endure Rogai’s only significant shortcoming and chalk it up to youth - a lack of perspiration rather than inspiration.