Climate Change gets an Americana mouthpiece.
From their origins in the family garden, sorry, backyard, brother/sister duo Zak and Lena Kendall have evolved from homespun folk to the more contemporary roots-based partnership that is GoldenOak. With ‘Room to Grow’, the pair’s second release, the focus is on environmental issues, both local to their Maine home and globally. The result is a poignant, yet urgent reflection on climate change.
As a student of human ecology in college Zak firmly believes that using music as art can be as relevant as any lengthy treatise on the issue, imploring “art isn’t a dumbed-down version of climate issues.” Indeed, putting these thoughts into song, he argues, provides the public a greater accessibility to the facts and fears that the subject demands.
Of course, to achieve that stated aim then GoldenOak’s music needs to reach an audience. So, does ‘Room to Grow’ have enough about it to grab the attention of a public saturated with bad news and gloomy portents? The answer is a soft ‘yes’. The album has a number of things going for it. The duo’s vocals harmonise together well, with Zak assuming the lead on most tracks. Musically it sounds good too with Lena’s clarinet offering up a contrast to Zak’s acoustic that predominates in the main. Other musicians add weight and depth at times, never more so than on ‘Only One’, where the trombone of Forrest Tripp makes a memorable impact on a song described as an anthem for those often solitary and exposed individuals on the front line of environmental activism.
Perhaps unsurprisingly on an album where the lyrical message is so important a number of tracks have a low key, acoustic feel to them that let those lovely harmonies shine through. Those accompanying musicians have their part to play, sometimes subtle, at other times much more influential to the feel of the song such as in ‘The Light and Loneliness’ where the sound is of a full-on mariachi band leading us into probably the most up-tempo song on the album.
Leaving aside the unambiguously earnest subject matter that forms the heart of the album it is important to stress that this is also a collection that deserves an audience for its musical merits alone. It is a lovingly crafted piece of indie/folk Americana and one that will hopefully provide Zak’s message with that oxygen of accessibility with which he set out.