SPEED THE PLOUGH – The Plough & The Stars

Album: The Plough and the Stars

Artist: Speed the Plough

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Speed the Plough

www.bar-none.com

 BY MICHAEL BERICK

 Speed The Plough came out of the vibrant Hoboken music scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s that centered around the recently closed club, Maxwell’s. Probably the best known of the Hoboken bands is that cult favorite, the Feelies, and Speed the Plough has Feelies affiliations: bassist Brenda Sauter and drummer Stan Demeski played in both bands and Feelies co-founder Bill Million produced Speed The Plough’s first two albums (as well as playing on the first).

 Listening to the band’s new retrospective The Plough & The Stars, it is easy to pick up some musical similarities surface too. Like the Feelies, Speed the Plough often built their songs around strummed, jangly guitars but each group employed in their own way. While the Feelies used electric guitars to create spiky songs full of nervous energy (best showcased on the classic debut Crazy Rhythms), Speed the Plough favored acoustic guitars in constructing their gentler, more subdued music. Even when a rare electric guitar solo punctuated a Speed the Plough tune, like the one that unfurls at the end of “Lock & Key,” it never becomes totally untamed.

 Speed The Plough, however, wasn’t making music with rock ‘n’ roll’s bulldozing ferocity. They used a variety of stringed instruments, percussions and woodwinds to weave together a graceful, lush sound. Often they had two female vocalists (Sauter and Toni Paruta Baumgartner) singing together that enhanced the music’s lithe, airy qualities.  Pastoral without being rustic, the songs suggest the English folk-rock of Fairport Convention and Pentangle but with melodic pop underpinnings. Standout The Plough & The Stars tracks like “Trains,” “Tommy’s House,” “The Tide Won’t Tire,” “Said And Done,” “Lock & Key,” “In The Atmosphere” and “Late Birds” exemplify the band’s skill at crafting wonderfully captivating dream-folk songs.

 These songs cover all four of the band’s full-length albums – 1989’s self-titled Coyote Records debut, 1991’s Wonder Wheel, 1993’s Mason’s Box and 1995’s Marina (all on East Side Digital Records). In fact, there is a good cohesion to this collection, which demonstrates how successfully Speed the Plough maintained its musical vision over the years despite a number of personnel changes (only Paruta Baumgartner, her husband, keyboardist/songwriter John Baumgartner, and guitarist Marc Francia appeared on every album). The group’s alluring, richly textured acoustic-grounded music actually fits in extremely well with today’s Americana scene, which makes this excellent compilation not only a welcome introduction to this little known band but a quite timely release too.

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