In some ways it’s a bad time to be troupe of acoustic guitar wielding indie-folk types. The banjo renaissance boom is on the wane, figureheads the likes of Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes scrabbling for continued relevance in a new indie age of dream-pop melodies and ’80s nostalgia. But in fairness, the mass commercialization of simple-life rootsiness was really just popularizing folk traditions that have endured for generations, and largely took their place in smoky bars and around campfires on the periphery of the big stage. In this sense, it’s not always easy to separate heartfelt authenticity from those just riding the wave. Where Columbus trio CAAMP fit in with third record By and By takes a little unweaving.
A first listen and it’s tempting to set your eyes to ‘roll’. Acoustic chords move through their progressions, banjos twang and a husky voice changes gears from heartfelt croon to rockabilly swagger. An image not helped by the wilderness allusions of the band’s name—inexplicably spelt with two As—and associated imagery, I mean there’s the obligatory “Wolf Song” and a traveling bear on the album cover for God’s sake. But in a brief moment of introspection you might ask, “am I simply projecting years of indie radio stations flogging this music into superfluous ubiquity onto a record I haven’t really given a chance?”, and you might give it another listen. It’s then the tendrils of sincerity curl through the cracks and you begin to really feel what these three fellas are laying out.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s not really trying to be. They’re simple tracks, sure, but they revel in their own simple existence. Most of these songs are tracked live and consist of old band favorites that have been bandied about for years, or new ones that were birthed through the recording process. It creates a pleasant presentness, a genuine sense of a band enjoying time playing music with each other. Opener “Feels Like Home,” for all that it flirts with melodrama, has genuine emotional weight to its sparse intensity, while they play well into more bluesy roots with the likes of “On & On & On” and “Peach Fuzz.” “Penny, Heads Up” boasts a delightfully charming melody while “Moonsmoke” plays out with lovely ease.
It’s a togetherness and love that seeps through the pores of their lyrics—genuine words of time spent in shared being. “Wolf Song” might sing of packing bags and heading North—a yearning for a semblance of freedom—but there’s always a sense of finding belonging wherever you may lie, “always thinking of you.” “Feels Like Home” sets the tone, singing of “a yearnin’ in the river and it feels like home,” the hook of “Penny, Heads Up” accepts “we ain’t got much but what we got’s enough,” before a simple “this here is love, this here is life,” in “Of Life and Love” bids the record farewell. Like the music of By and By, it’s nothing groundbreaking and in the wrong mood feels worn. But the guys of CAAMP dwell in the earthiness of nature and family and living simply; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Let’s just hope they don’t form a club and go bicycling in Bombay.