The Calamity Janes have been a going Milwaukee concern for only a year or so, but they already feel as old as the city itself. That’s party due to the members’ deep ties to the local scene, but also because their music defies any of-the-moment trends or movements. (Oodles of live shows haven’t hurt, either.) Yes, the Calamity Janes fall squarely into the modern folk/bluegrass revival, but one listen to their exceedingly lovely debut full-length album Easier, Better reveals a group of musicians so confident in their abilities, so unafraid to let their songs (and voices) stand on their own with little or no adornment, that it’s hard not to get lost in the sound.
Krystal Kuehl, Elizabeth Altman, and Johanna Rose provide the driving songwriting force behind the Janes, and, along with banjo player Allison Gross, bestow the band with its deceptively simple and effortlessly beautiful vocals. Opener “Drive” gives those vocals a short-and-sweet a cappella harmony showcase before the full Fratney Street Band kicks in for the swooning bluegrass of “In The Garden.” Stand-up bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, and violin are all deployed sparingly and expertly throughout the album, but it always comes back to those voices: dark and mysterious on “Night,” wide-eyed and clear on the title track, and sultry and sly on album standout “Old Oak Tree.”
Easier, Better is a gorgeously hushed record, but it also makes time for some joyful, playful moments, like the love-letter yearning of “Milwaukee” and the kitchen-sink charm of “Woo Hoo.” It all adds up to a debut that rarely makes a wrong move and never fails to charm. Listen to it below, only at Milwaukee Record.
Calamity Janes And The Fratney Street Band celebrate the release of Easier, Better Saturday, June 14 at Linneman’s. Tickets and albums are $5. Ugly Brothers and Hello Death open the show.