“When words fail…music speaks.”
That phrase is what the Elephant Revival uses to help describe their music. It’s a phrase that works, because the songwriting found on their albums is deep, tapping into tough emotions and describing the human experience through devoted metaphors. The quintet is made up of Bonnie Paine (washboard, djembe, musical saw, stompbox); Bridget Law (fiddle, octave fiddle); Charlie Rose (banjo, pedal steel, guitar, horns, cello, double bass); Dango Rose (double bass, mandolin, banjo); and Daniel Rodriguez (guitar, banjo, double bass). With more than four albums under their belt, the band has found their groove in lyrics and melodies, and with a devoted listen, you can hear the music speak on the band’s newest album, Petals.
The album begins with the love song “Hello You Who.” Bonnie leads the vocals here, singing greetings to the one who holds her close and dances with her. The song establish’s the band’s folk style well, with a good mix of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and upright bass behind the vocals. “Peace Tonight” has a great, catchy melody with a mix of guitars, fiddle, and pedal steel along with more vocal harmonies from the band. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who seems to be praying for the people around her. She wishes them, no matter who they are or what they’re dealing with, to have peace as the day ends and night falls.
The title track has more electric guitar and percussion in a production that bounces between tempo and styles throughout. It creates a bit of a jarring listen, but shows some versatility in the group as musicians, who are committed to creating a different sonic atmosphere within each song. “On and On” is one of the more vague songs on the album, but it works as the listener is able to draw their own interpretation from the lyrics. I interpret the song about people committing themselves to a lie, and carrying that lie with them in public while it secretly eats at them.
The steel guitar and fiddle are brilliantly showcased on “Raindrops.” A quiet, spacial production that builds to a great fiddle solo, the melody moves with the lyrics. The song encourages one to take a step back and relax amid the chaos of a storm in life. Elephant Revival frequently use water as symbol throughout the songs, which goes along with the album art depicts a woman rowing a boat. Water can symbolize several things: It could be calming/refreshing, a symbol for new life or the beginning of a new cycle, or the flow of emotions and representation that things change. And in the cases where water shows up on the album, it symbolizes calming or a changing journey.
Elephant Revival also use the symbol of changing seasons as a metaphor for breakups in “Season Song.” Through the feeling of living things dying in the fall and the cold of winter, into the spring, the season of rebirth, the lyrics clearly deal with overcoming the end of a relationship. With a faint Celtic influence in their writing and production, the Elephant Revival tap into that with “Furthest Shore.” A journey through water as the story tells of a boy who is separated from his mother. The upright bass and fiddle are present in the song as well as some Irish accents in the vocals.
Water pops up again with “Sea Monster.” It’s more of country song with the banjo and fiddle in the mix. Lyrically, the song depicts a search for something, and the ups and downs of success, with the temptations of the Siren’s song luring the searcher away from the goal. With many songs dealing with symbolic metaphors, “When I Fall” sounds a bit out place. The song is rather basic, lyrically, skirting around spiritual themes without fleshing out any sort symbolism or direct story. I suppose it’s another song that could read like a prayer, but even so, it’s not as fleshed out as “Peace Tonight.”
The final use of water on Petals comes in “Home in Your Heart.” Almost like a river baptism, the song deals with the rebirth and new beginnings in life. The album ends on a strong note in the melodies. The use of strings are well done, and even though the songs are slower, they compliment the lyrics. And in the final song, “Close as Can Be,” the lyrics tell the story of a woman trying to move on from the death of a loved one. Bonnie Paine’s vocals are spot on as she sings about how the memories will keep them as close as can be.
Petals is a well written album, exploring common life situations with new symbolism and different approaches. Sonically, though, the band take an approach of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The song’s melodies stay in the Elephant Revival comfort zone as heard on the band’s previous albums. With that said, Petals is a good folk/Americana album worth listening exploring.