It is nearly a guarantee that a band rocking a bunch of painted faces holds no talent beneath their masks, and I feared this trend continuing as I sat and watched what seemed to be a ragged crew of hillbilly hipsters setting up their conveniently eclectic gear for a show that I was positive I was gonna regret paying for; but once they kicked off their set and the sound began to grab hold of all those in the room, I quickly realized never have I been so wrong.
The sound of Underhill Family Orchestra is simply amazing. Clearly influenced by the roots and folk scene that drives so much music that comes out of the south, Underhill takes these elements and brings their own modern interpretation to the beautiful sounds of the past. Instrumentation including a mandolin, acoustic guitars, and a simple Gretsch drum kit would be welcome in any honky-tonk or bluegrass festival south of the Mason-Dixon, but Underhill does not stop at mere tradition with the use of this instrumentation, they go much, much further.
Developing a sound all their own, Underhill builds on these traditional elements by adding electric bass and guitar, subtle (and not so subtle) use of effects, and sudden (often violent) changes in tempo and intensity that are more at home in these prog-rock epics we see today than the simple structure common to most roots influenced tracks.
One of the first things that impressed me about Underhill Family Orchestra is the talent that all of the members clearly have. The dynamic on stage is constantly changing due to the fact that all of the members switch instruments and vocal position from one song to the next (other than Joelle, she has full time singing and kicking over mike stands duty from what I could see).
This constant switching between musicians gives the audience a chance to see many different faces of Underhill, as well as give each member of the band something fresh and interesting to do on stage. Too many times have I seen that one nameless bass player or drummer who clearly is just going through the motions of his version of a boring day at the office, and I’m sure it’s nice to be able step from behind a drum kit or rhythm instrument and step out and into the spotlight once in a while.
The constant changing of every element within Underhill is the dynamic that makes this band something special. From the structure of the instrumentation and overall stage dynamic, to the sudden changes in musical intensity that goes on within nearly every song, Underhill Family Orchestra kept me on my toes from the first screaming roots lyric, to the last decaying moan.
Now, I hate comparisons as much as the band being compared surely does, because if there is a person out there that already sounds like your band then major changes are due, but the closest thing I can find in the mainstream that may even compare to Underhill Family Orchestra would be the dynamic of Arcade Fire. Underhill does not really sound anything like Arcade Fire, but AF’s constantly changing stage dynamic is pulled off as well (if not better) by Underhill during the set I watched, and without nearly as much noise and clutter getting in the way of some amazing music.
I can happily say that Underhill Family Orchestra is one of the many elements that continually remind me of how special the south truly is, and why I love this land so much. In a world that currently seems to be so obsessed with “the drop” or anything overly processed and fabricated in the music scene, it is nice to see a band staying nearer to their roots, and being so damn good at it. We need more creativity in music if we want it to continue to grow, and I applaud Underhill Family Orchestra for being one of the few still aiding in that growth through continued creativity.