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Review: The Bonesetters, 'Savages'



The Bonesetters

The Bonesetters moved to Indy from Muncie over the winter and have made themselves visible very quickly since, playing as both an opening act and a headliner at all of the major indie venues in the city (and most of the minor ones), week-in and week-out. The fact they come from Muncie and have claimed Indy as their new home puts them in fairly interesting company with Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos and Everything, Now! (among others I probably just don't know about yet).

But the fact they come from Muncie isn't the only thing the Bonesetters have in common with these bands; it's also a matter of sound. Whether intentionally or not, the Bonesetters' emotionally honest, folk- and country-influenced rock seems to strike a balance somewhere between Margot and E,N!; Margot for the brutal, sometimes violent bluntness of Snodgrass's lyrics, and E,N! for their use of country beats and the richly instrumented, highly unified energy they project.

The album opens with the title track, "Savages," which starts out with a bright, joyous vocal harmony before turning into an alt-rock anthem comparable to the Foo Fighters. And, in my opinion, just like E,N! they establish right from the beginning their ability to come together as a band: tight, well-orchestrated and well-produced. If "Savages" is this album's signature track as well as its eponymous track, then the Bonesetters nailed it right from the gate.

The wonderful thing about this album, however, is the way the Bonesetters can handle a number of different styles and tones and still keep that unity of purpose and the well-roundedness that makes this a complete musical statement.

They don't make it back to the rockin' level of "Savages" until past the midpoint of the album, with "Maypole." In between, they deliver some of the tracks that have become signature Bonesetters songs in my mind and demonstrate the depth of songwriting talent on this album. Musically, "Bruises" is hard to classify, with a high, glassy guitar riff lain over a one-two, stomp-blues rhythm. The lyrics are mainly centered around Snodgrass's stay in the hospital, in which an inexperienced nurse punctured his arm eight times looking for a vein, but it's laced with a deeper desperation of having nothing left to lose ("I curse the ghost for giving me up/cause in the dark, who's going to find you out?").

The fifth and sixth tracks on this album "Mama Prays" and "Maypole" fit so nicely together they might as well be counted as suites of the same song. "Mama Prays" utilizes Sam Shafer on trumpet and Lauren Eison on violin to create an oddly structured accompaniment to what is essentially a verseless poem harkening back to childhood memories of a delusional father ("Daddy said John Wayne saved our asses back in World War II"). For some reason, that line, delivered in Snodgrass's sentimental melancholy, is something I churn over in my head from time to time. Though at face value it's not particularly complex, it's an example of the way an album like this can work on you after careful listening.

The moment "Mama Prays" breaks into "Maypole" is my single favorite moment on this album, which is full of great moments. With a fast-driving bass line and the opening lyrics "Well I went to the station to catch my ride... " it's like the writer is traveling fast to leave behind the dysfunctional family he writes about in "Mama Prays." Again, the kind of thing you can't get on the first or second listen but precisely what makes this album worth repeating.

The album closes with "Morning Glory," a stripped-down blues track done on the acoustic guitar, with Snodgrass's double-tracked vocals and an angelic background chorus that takes up more and more of the song's weight as it progresses. It's as though the song is a final prayer; an endnote that, taken by itself would seem incongruous with the rest of the album, but which somehow succeeds in offering a perfect conclusion, a send-off in many ways.


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