“Down in the valley with whiskey rivers, these are the places you’ll find me hiding. These are the places I will always go.” These are the iconic lyrics from The Head and the Heart’s breakout tune “Down In The Valley,” a folk ballad that evokes a little piece of Jack Kerouac’s rambling mysticism in all of us. And they — these beautiful, quaint, and captivating folksters — certainly took listeners down there with them.
Where exactly they took us is not easy to specify. But the lyrics that immediately proceed the promised adventures help shed some light: “I am on my way, on my way back to where I started. California, Oklahoma, all of the places I ain’t never been to…”
And they’ve made good on that promise. They went somewhere they had never before been to — and it’s better than California and a whole hell of a lot better than Oklahoma. It’s all been captured on the new album “Let’s Be Still,” an evolutionary piece for the Head and the Heart, wherein the band fortifies their sound beyond their characteristic soft and silently-spun style of indie-folk. “Let’s Be Still” sees the band moving towards the eclectic and, very seldom, the electric. Playing partner to the vocal harmonies and acoustic instrumentation that made their first album, their new work is a little more rock-‘n’-roll, with some covert secret agent synth that you don’t realize has snuck into the party until you’re already dancing and singing along. It’s that kind of subtle addition, such as cello warmth embodied in a mellow Moog tone, that fleshes out their already well-developed sound while still allowing themselves to move forward as a band and tonal entity.
“Let’s Be Still” additionally showcases the Head and the Heart’s Beatles-reminiscent journey into eclecticism, adding musical flourishes to basically simple chord progressions and song structures. The shimmery Rhodes-style keys and rippling guitar licks on “Fire/Fear,” the flowery and tastefully noodly bass lines on album opener “Homecoming Heroes” and “10,000 Weight In Gold,” and the dance-oriented rhythm changes and synth melody on “Summertime” testify to the band’s branching out, as well as plugging in.
While folk music tends to adhere to the less-is-more philosophy in instrumentation, these additions are really just that — they add to their sound. They don’t take away from it, as happens all too often when music for forests over-packs on the backpacking trip and gets lost in the woods. The Head of the band has evolved, but the Heart has remained what it always was, pumping the same folksy blood that inspired their first record and will inspire subsequent musical adventures. It’s just the sound they’ve developed, and hopefully it will lead them into further greatness.
They still retain that monastic Beat generation feel defined by Jack Kerouac and his contemporaries, with a few timeless tweaks. Moreover, with so many indie-folk bands out there, it’s hard to say what distinguishes one from the next. While it’s still hard to say what sets this band apart from others, it’s not hard to say that whatever it is they do, they do it better. They’ve allowed the band to move around and get settled, but not too settled. That could be what continuously propels this group forward while others remain stuck.
To end in the same way this began, the iconic lyrics from this album may be the very first verse: “So now I know people want a story. One ending with glory. And the wave of their flag.”
There’s a story in it for the Head and the Heart, one of artistic development and making timeless music. And they’re shaping up to end gloriously. Whether their flag is mercifully white and they give in to whatever direction the wind blows them or is a resilient black flag of sticking to their flintlock muskets, they’ve got a flag to wave. And let’s be real, they seem like a white flag group of folk.