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Album review: The pack is back on first Coyote LP in six years

Jerree Small is a regional treasure, ya know. It's true: for years, she has been plugging away, sometimes high-profile, sometimes low. Southwire was a going concern for quite a while, but they apparently did what bands sometimes do and vanished i...

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Jerree Small is a regional treasure, ya know.

It's true: for years, she has been plugging away, sometimes high-profile, sometimes low. Southwire was a going concern for quite a while, but they apparently did what bands sometimes do and vanished into a puff of smoke some time ago. But, whatever it is she's up to, it's worth paying attention.

Coyote's never really gone away, even though it's been six years since they last put out new music. The trio, which finds Small joined by Marc Gartman playing the Instrument That Shall Not Be Named (okay, fine, it's the banjo) and Matt Mobley on upright bass, has always made quietly intense music that feels folky without indulging in folk's often-cliched image. (This is to say that no one in Coyote seems to be interested in pretending that they're Pete Seeger, or that they're Dust Bowl farmers instead of modern people with cell phones and Hulu.)

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"A Different Path" is the new one, and the title doesn't seem to refer to the musical mission of the trio, as they sound comfortably like themselves. No techno beats here, ravers. Nope, this here is a clutch of 12 simple, direct songs that are performed with a minimum of hoopla and a maximum of patience and understatement.

The moods are varied, but most of the music is similar: vocal songs with sparse instrumentation, performed patiently. Maybe this is what makes them seem like a folk group, even though there are many things about them that aren't incredibly folky.

For example, even though Gartman's plinking on the banjo within the first ten seconds of "Quicksand," it's not in that hey-check-me-out-I'm-playing-this-old-timey-thing way that so many have done over the past five years or so. Gartman has enough taste to employ the instrument sparingly and tastefully, just barely sketching chords with it. He trusts Small to be the star of the song, which she does, ably.

"Quicksand / Quicksand / I'm losing footing," she sings, Gartman adding subtle vocal harmony. It's a dark scene, and it's certainly not new imagery, but the band takes these few bits of material and builds a compelling structure with it all, Small's resonant voice tying it together.

Gartman takes the lead vocal on "Pretty Coat," his AM Gold singing sounding more like James Taylor than ever before. In the distance, Mobley plucks out little melodic swatches. On the title track, Gartman bemoans the randomness of the universe and expresses a bit of what seems like a bit of light envy at those who can live on farms.

The fact that Coyote has two different vocalists is a strength, and they use it well. Not everything is a two-voice duet. Something like "Good Morning, Love" is, but then there's a piano ballad in the form of "You Haven't Got the Heart," which finds Small belting it out, alone, under a spotlight. Even though the band doesn't have a ton of lures in their tackle box, they use them all to fine effect.

"A Different Path" is the very first local album of 2019 that we're considering in this column, but it could easily end up as one of its best. Not a bad way to kick off the new year.

 

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Artist: Coyote

Album: "A Different Path"

Recorded by Jake Larson at Sacred Heart Music Center, Duluth

Produced by: Steve Garrington

Website: www.duluthcoyote.bandcamp.com

Personnel: Jerree Small (guitar, vocals), Marc Gartman (banjo, vocals), Matt Mobley (bass)

Upcoming CD-release show: 8 p.m. Saturday with Yester at Blush, 18 N. 1st Ave. W.

Click here to listen to "Quicksand."

Related Topics: MUSIC
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