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The Vespers

The Fourth Wall – 2012 (Black Suit)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by The Vespers

Like their alt-folk and bluegrass brethren, Crooked Still, Red Molly, Blame Sally and the late, lamented Nickel Creek, The Vespers are adept at conveying back porch harmony with deep-rooted humility and soaring spirituality. They may be young - the two brothers and two sisters who make up the quartet are barely out of their teens (and one is only 19!) - but the reverence for tradition and home-grown sensibilities echoes consistently through every one of these rootsy homilies. Indeed, the melodies come across like Sunday morning hymns, songs that combine gospel fervor with a supple delivery.

Given the fact that "The Fourth Wall" is only the quartet's second album and, like their first release, 2010's "Tell Your Mama," also an independent effort, their competence - and confidence - is all the more impressive. The title is taken from theatrical jargon that delineates the unseen divide through which an audience observes the performers on stage, an appropriate handle that also connects to the album's easy embrace. Songs such as Better Now, Got No Friends and Will You Love Me convey wistful folk finesse...all plucking banjo, willowy harmonies, breezy tempos and down-home designs. But it's their deeper reverence that envelopes these tracks, particularly their mournful cover of Son House's Grinnin in Your Face (the sole cover), Lawdy and the album's lovely hymn-like closer Winter.

Youth and contemplation oftentimes make odd bedfellows, but these earnest shuffles and hushed laments manage to infuse celebration with solemnity and make that mix sound effortlessly enticing in the process. Two albums on, the Vespers have demonstrated their ability to tap into a timeless thread and garner contemporary appeal. In so doing, they emulate a neo gothic imprint that might have been etched in Appalachia. "The Fourth Wall" is something truly special.