Tyler Morgan (left) Kristopher Chrisopulous (center) and “Sweet” Dwayne Spence of Lincoln’s Beard perform in front of Mon Ami Cafe during the inaugural First Friday in the Village on May 1. / Photo by Anni Cothern
“I call it urgent folk,” says “Sweet” Dwayne Spence of local music outfit Lincoln’s Beard.
The trio follows in the tradition of bands playing honest, simple folk while embracing the grit and attitude of American rock. Tin Pan Alley meets Vantucky on the band’s debut LP, Our American Cousin. Lincoln’s Beard benefits from the big, warm sound of quality production — recorded at the Toadhouse, Portland and mastered by Vancouver’s Nettleingham Audio — without losing the raw feeling of their first recording venture, an 18-minute EP recorded in two days. In contrast, Our American Cousin took about a year-and-a-half to finish.
“For the EP, we just wanted to throw something out there,” said lead singer and acoustic guitar player Kristopher Chrisopulos. “I think our songwriting has gotten better. We’re willing take our time … the songs warrant taking the time.”
Chrisopulos attacks the brunt of the singing with a grungy, determined manner. He projects an Eddie Vedder-like (Pearl Jam) persona often, particularly on “Entertainment Tonight,” but can turn right around with a free-wheeling, get-on-your-horse-and-go showing (“Bran-name Shoes”). Tyler Morgan, for his part, shines on the deep “Heartache At My Door,” part gut-wrenching, part transcendent song. “And I hear heartache knocking once again / it’s become an old friend / and I don’t want you to feel bad / I thought it was good what we had,” he sings, with Chrisopulos and Spence harmonizing in the milieu. It’s a hell of a performance for a guy who claims, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Lincoln’s Beard sound is driven by its rambling, collaborative craft style. Between the three members, acoustic guitar, banjo, keyboard, mandolin, a cheap-yet-effective xylophone, drums, bass and trumpet are used. For all the mixing of elements and shifty instrumentation, however, the album flows nice and smooth.
They jump around stylistically; from backwoods gospel (“Grandpa Christmas”) to jaunty indie pop (“No. 2”), yet each song seems to pick up right where the last one left off. The band ties its sound together with moody-yet-uplifting harmonies, like on “Heartache” (the only track longer than three minutes) and “As We Speak.” “Fishstix” plays the album’s last call, an unyielding beat, trumpet solos for verses and the repeated chorus wail, “Rowing my boat out to sea.” I’m a sucker for a good album close, and this is one to remember. But, really, it would fit well anywhere on the album.
Morgan named Wilco and Bob Dylan as two personal influences. Like those two (and countless others), Lincoln’s Beard challenges the tastes of its listeners without forcing complicated arrangements on them. Start with a good song idea, a few chords and see where it goes from there seems to be the band’s mantra (along with playing music for the hell of it). But, like Dylan, Wilco, and the countless others, the final sound always amounts to more than its parts.
Chisopulous said the band started out very country, more twangy than what’s projected on their recent project. I imagine the band keeps pressing themselves — adding new flavors here and there without losing the enjoyable sounds created so far.
“We’ve had a lot of support from family and friends … and want to make sure to thank the people who took the time to make the album sound so good, give it all the detail it has.”