River Whyless’ “A Stone, A Leaf, an Unfound Door”

“With A Stone, a Leaf, an Unfound Door, River Whyless prove just how in touch with Appalachia’s character they are.” -Hannah Cook

Hannah Cook

out of 10

River Whyless
A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door
January 10, 2012

The Appalachian region is one of the most impoverished areas in The United States–that is until you consider the arts. There’s something about the idea of lacking that encourages creation, something about being surrounded by oceans of green and dirt and rocks that makes a person more in touch with humanity. It’s a backwards concept.

Based on their newest release A Stone, a Leaf, an Unfound Door, River Whyless sees what is so special about Appalachia and has garnered that appreciation with music that is both technically gifted and aesthetically sound. There are many reasons for this. The quartet consists of a graduate of the Appalachia State School of Music and a classically trained violinist, not to mention their hometown of Boone, North Carolina rests atop the Appalachian Mountains—they could see it all.

The album prefaces with the sound of a delicate stream and footsteps plopping into the water and out onto the grass. Then begins the pretty plucks opening “Leaf.” The subtle introduction is the calm before an evening more calming storm. It’s the first glimpse of not only their orchestral essence, but also how impeccably co-songwriters Halli Anderson and Ryan O’Keefe harmonize.

The symphonic roots persist throughout the whole album but glimmer more brightly in songs like “Stone” and “Pigeon Feathers.”

The former begins with a truly impressive violinist’s technique of swift, slight strokes and progresses into an adventure of distant “oooos” and “aaahs,” marching drums and acoustics that would make Fleet Foxes proud papas. The journey dies down for O’Keefe voicing his struggle with faith, perhaps, begging the everlasting question: “Is God just another word for company that I don’t need?” About three and a half minutes in (the song is over seven minutes long) it takes a turn for the sneaky, like a gypsy-western hybrid. Anderson takes the lead with her almost seductive vocals singing “I heard that you stopped praying for us.” The song ends in the same nature that it began, like a morning voyage.

“Pigeon Feathers” is a layered masterpiece. Anderson boasts her violin skills, looping blankets of passionate string sinfoniettas done all her own. Like the aforementioned song, “Pigeon Feathers” has many dynamics, almost like a few songs in one.

Things get a little more poppy in “Cedar Dream Part II” with clapping and percussion ensembles that are some of the catchiest I’ve heard. The band envelops electronics more than the per usual acoustics with a repetitive yet faint electric guitar riff, with the occasional whale call produced by Anderson’s violin strokes.

The final and instrument-drive song on the album, “YU,” has that conclusive demeanor that it should. Sleepily, O’ Keefe and Anderson croon before a guitar holds the floor as impromptu violin sounds, clashes and bangs fill the waves. The song surmounts suddenly, pauses, then digresses back to its mount of more cohesive, yet still wild instrumentation.

With A Stone, a Leaf, an Unfound Door, River Whyless prove just how in touch with Appalachia’s character they are. Though their touring compass leads them west and south and north, their roots remain from whence they began.

Be sure to catch River Whyless at The Hummingbird in Macon,Georgia on March 10, 2012