On the surface, The Harmed Brothers might seem like another Americana band. Sure enough, banjos, mandolins, and harmonicas pepper their sound, and singer Ray Vietti has a great bluegrass voice. Their new release, Better Days, shows that they can spice up the mix and stand out from the bland crowd of modern folk.
They describe their sound as “indiegrass,” an appropriate term considering their roots, taking inspiration from Ryan Adams and Wilco. (Plot twist: the band is from Eugene, Oregon.) Guitar shuffles and major-key progressions typify their style, as is obvious tracks like “Sky Cracked a Smile,” where Vietti layers his alligatored midrange atop narrative lyrics with a campfire chorus. “Never Went Away” is a great example of what the band does well. The song opens with banjo as a sort of prelude to a full-band ballad with a jaunty refrain. Alex Salcido’s banjo playing is showcased here, revealing how good he is at it. He has a talent for sprinkling scalar lines into the Brothers’ tunes.
The optimism of the album peaks at the title track––a genuine, hopeful ditty about seeing an old friend again. It’s an old topic, yes, but a tried and true one. The band’s honesty is inherent in their music, crafting simple songs that have a lot to say. Their lyrics stand out as the basis of their creations, embossing themselves with a country ethos and direct delivery.
The last few songs of the album are a different entity, sticking to the folky nature of the album but with a more dramatic twist. “Ballad of Probably Not” begins with reflective harmonies that form a sonic space unexpected of their style. A piano tinkle enters halfway through and complements the instrumentation. This has got to be huge when played live. “Caverns” is the strongest track on the album, channeling a little City and Colour with soft piano and acoustic guitar paired with a smoother, more somber tone Vietti. Lyrically, it laments in a way all too accessible for the listener. Not only is it relatable, but it lives up to its name, being simultaneously large and hollow.
While they often stick to structural archetypes, The Harmed Brothers find ways of injecting their own brand, marked by alt-country music and earthy vocals. Better Days will no doubt be welcome among the Americana scene, though listeners outside that genre might find it a tad average. They play well for their designated audience and might even have a small crossover audience, but their real strength is in their unadulterated rawness.