String band music has come a long way from its old-time rural roots, fiddler conventions and picking parlors. Portland, Ore. act Crow and the Canyon are an excellent example of the youth movement in the genre, with collegiate freshness framing their acoustic instrumentation on this debut album.
Musically, Crow and the Canyon are in the 'gentle folk-pop' realm inhabited by Mandolin Orange and much of Nickel Creek's catalog. Principal songwriter and singer Ben Larsen has a serviceable voice, but the sparks really ignite when he harmonizes with Leigh Jones. Jones has a little Sara Watkins in her delivery, lending warmth to the proceedings when she sings lead as on "Wilmington," an ode to her North Carolina origins.
Part of the band's more mainstream-sounding appeal is that they are young enough to be influenced primarily by the second generation of acoustic music-strains of Sam Bush, John Hartford and John Prine echo through songs such as "Crow and the Canyon" and the fast-paced "Stephanie." They pay specific homage to Hartford with an almost too-perfect take on "Gentle On My Mind" that features Jones and Larsen harmonizing throughout in a manner that evokes Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons.
Acoustic music in general, and string bands in particular, have evolved more and more quickly in many different directions, but groups such as Crow and the Canyon show that there is still life in the simple application of the style to some great songs, played well.