King’s Daughters & Sons, If Then Not When

Rob Young

By Rob Young

on 11.21.11 in Reviews

Named after a Christian organization founded in 1886 under the motto, “Not to be ministered to, but to minister,” King’s Daughters & Sons share the same meld of down-home Americana, English folk rock and song stories that’s been raised to a new public pitch by the likes of the Decemberists and Midlake. What the quintet add is a heavy-acoustic heft and an almost classical grace, courtesy of pianist Rachel Grimes, founder of the Rachel’s chamber ensemble that infiltrated post-rock circles in the 1990s. Auspiciously based in Louisville, Kentucky — the Rachel’s hometown — KDS is something of a small-scale post-rock supergroup, combining members of Shipping News and The For Carnation.

Down-home Americana with a heavy-acoustic heft and an almost classical grace

If Then Not When was recorded direct to two-track and it achieves a similar blunt, spacious presence as Led Zeppelin’s mighty Headley Grange recordings for their 1971 fourth album. Main writer Joe Manning’s songs are uniformly minor-key and maudlin, doubters’ offerings to an absent god. Only when the words cease, as on the opening “Sleeping Colony,” does the band take wing and blanket the song in a weft of ringing, tolling improvisation (second guitarist Michael Heineman, in lockstep with bassist Todd Cook, are especially effective here). On the instrumental “A Storm Kept Them Away,” Grimes introduces some glittering electric piano, before the ensemble sweeps in with a rolling thunderhead, creaking and yawing towards an abrupt cutoff. “Volunteer” follows, a solemn prayer for something substantial beyond a “novelty gag.”

Elsewhere, “The Anniversary” — rolling on a lovely water-wheel of unplugged guitars and brush-drums — recounts a rustic wedding overturned by an explosion; “Lorelei”‘s sleepwalking vision of black ships and strange portents runs for a tense, hushed eight minutes, thrillingly sustained. “Open Sky” begins with some gorgeously keening harmony vocals in a Steeleye Span/CSNY mode, and in fact its gigantic dirge-like three-minute coda, with its rutting and snarling twin-guitar interplay, vividly recalls the extemporisations of Neil Young/Crazy Horse circa “Down By The River.” It’s a medicine they’re ministering, bitter to taste but, ultimately, deeply restorative.