The Boston Boys – Keep You Satisfied Release Date: October 8, 2013
Record Label: Self-Released
Has there been anything more bizarre in recent pop music trend than the sudden return of folk and bluegrass music to the limelight? For the better part of two decades, ever since bands like Counting Crows, the Wallflowers, or Sister Hazel were scoring hits on the radio in the ‘90s, folk music seemed like one of those genres that major labels weren’t even willing to touch with a ten-foot pole. Sensitive bands with folk lilt in their songs could either go full twang and become mainstream country artists are go the independent route; for most of the 2000s, there was no middle ground. And while plenty of great folk music was being made outside of the mainstream—by everyone from Ryan Adams to Bon Iver to those ‘90s radio-roots-rock bands I mentioned above—being a folk-driven rock band was not high on the list for most aspiring copycat musicians, and signing a folk-driven rock band was not high on the list for most major label figureheads, either.
But then something happened: people started paying attention to folk music again. Obviously, the shift flowered at first thanks to critical adoration—artists like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes came along at the end of the last decade and made folk music “cool” again—but it then filtered into the mainstream from there. Fast forward to last fall, when Mumford & Sons somehow scored one of the biggest selling albums of the year with a bluegrass record and bands like the Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men were notching legitimate radio hits. And this year has been even more inundated with folk-heavy music than last. More than half of my personal top ten records come December are going to be folk or country-influenced projects, from the Civil Wars to Dawes, Will Hoge to Jason Isbell, Butch Walker to John Mayer. Today, folk music isn’t just cool; it’s a genre that everyone, from indie hipsters to mainstream radio fans, can agree on without much reservation, a fact that has put being a folk-driven rock band back on the list for many bands looking to break through to a new audience.
One of those bands is the Boston Boys, a Brooklyn-based quartet (yes, we’re all wondering why they aren’t just “the Brooklyn Boys”) with a Mumford & Sons RIYL and an enjoyable new EP called Keep You Satisfied out in a couple weeks. For those who don’t care much for Mumford & Sons—or only tolerate them because they made that instant classic music video for “Hopeless Wanderer”—don’t be scared away by that comparison. While the Boston Boys are a folk-driven rock band, they aren’t a copycat group. Their new record, despite its brevity, is actually quite versatile and boasts five good-to-great songs that balance Appalachian folk with screeching, Black Keys-style rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an interesting mix, one that could certainly use some refining as these guys get further and further into their newly-minted career (this is their second EP), but one that always keeps the record moving forward at a steady clip. “Satisfied” is a stomping, slide-guitar-laden slice of sex-infused rock ‘n’ roll, borrowing a bit of the Rolling Stones’ sheer audacity and channeling it into the set’s most propulsive track. Elsewhere, the swooning pop of “Amelia” finds balance between 20/20 Experience-era Justin Timberlake and the second Hellogoodbye record, while “Endless Creation” sounds like it could have come off that one Tally Hall album that was popular for five minutes back in early 2006.
The genre hopping sensibility is tied to the band’s folk roots throughout, whether by a rousing down-range fiddle solo (“Endless Creation”) or that loud, rollicking slide guitar on “Satisfied.” However, only the closing track, the hushed hymn that is “Take Me Under,” succumbs entirely to that style. And while the Boston Boys’ adventurousness is probably their best quality as a band—especially in a genre that has quickly become overcrowded with acts looking to capitalize on the success of the Mumford/Lumineer ilk—“Take Me Under” is still the finest moment of Keep You Satisfied. From the southern-church-bound feel of its structure to the gorgeous mandolin solo that frontman Eric Robertson contributes halfway through, the song feels and sounds timeless, like something I could have heard on the Anthology of American Folk Music back in one of my college music history classes. The Brooklyn Boys have chops all around, from the way they write songs to the sheer musicality they perform with, all the way to the weather-worn aesthetic that is oh-so necessary to being a successful folk act. Keep You Satisfied still has some of the jitters of a start-up band to work out—the production, for one, could benefit from more lush textures, or from punching up the vocals a bit in the mix—but those are small complaints for a band that already has what it takes to stand apart in the burgeoning modern folk scene.