Alternative to alternative is traditional but not regular for American troupe going back to their Olde Worlde roots.
A line between non-conformism and folk has always been a thin and a fine one, and it was crossed many times by the likes of Shane MacGowan but, perhaps, never as elegantly as on this album. With John Lombardo’s guitar back in the band’s service after a dozen years’ absence, and a successful crowdfunding campaign, the MANIACS finally let out in the open those inner FAIRPORTS they’ve been nurturing ever since Mary Ramsey took her violin and voice to the front. “Do You Love An Apple” being part of the sextet’s set list for nigh on three decades, “Tales Told Twice,” a collection of traditional English and Irish songs, expands on that newly recorded perennial’s idea and very much contextualizes it, albeit bookending the cycle with the instrumental “Lady Mary Ramsay” seems rather tongue-in-cheek – quite typical for the American ensemble.
Yet the delivery is stunningly serious, from the a cappella intimacy of “The Song Of Wandering Aengus” to the rich reel of “Marie’s Wedding,” jolly pieces such as “Dark Eyed Sailor” rising the emotionality of it all to peak with the spiritual “Carrickfergus” – one of the finest slices of folk rock you’ll ever hear. Some choices on offer are obvious, but the group feel their own, original way through the likes of “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “She Moved Through The Fair” as Dennis Drew’s piano lades a fresh layer onto an enchanting electric ripple, and “Misty Moisty Morning” acquires a funky riff. When it careens into pop, though, as on “Canadee-I-O,” the momentum seems to be lost, but the vibrant “Greenwood Sidey” where vocals are spiked with a drone enshrouds the drift in rustic magic.
As a result, the album’s title might be too humble, as it deserves many a repeated spin.