Feb 162011
Authors: Michael Elizabeth Sakas

The Builders and the Butchers, a Portland group that formed in 2005, was clearly not around in the 1800s. And seeing as none of the members are nearing their 20th birthday, they weren’t alive then either.

But on their third album “Dead Reckoning,” they sing as if they were.

The first song takes off on an adventure, but not an adventure of today with the lyrics “I took the train from Berlin to the sea/I took the train to harbors such as these/the engine steams, I’m trimming up my wings/and I took the train … The stars will shine, the moon will light my way.”

No mention of cars or airplanes, but old-fashioned railroads and moonlight lead this group into the turbulence of a younger America, an America they explore through their new album.

The percussion picks up on the second track, adding a catchy, foot-stomping rowdiness to the vocals of Ryan Sollee. He laments, “Did you know the whole world’s rotting to the core?/A baby wakes, a cradle shakes, the devils at the door/Mama turns her head at him ‘you don’t come around no-more.’”

These are words of worried and wasted old men, shared at bars and saloons in the middle of the night. While performing, this group probably wears vests, boots and porkpie hats.

It’s immediately apparent that the album was recorded live. According to the band’s website, they used recording styles of the ‘50s and ‘60s, “where the magic of a song was captured by the band playing together live and with minimal overdubbing.”

It adds to the album’s rustic qualities, but makes it sound amateur and unfinished.

The slower track, driven by strings and Sollee’s voice, takes the album to a deeper, more depressing place of loss and pain.

“All the places that you’ve seen, wrapped in watercolor dreams/And the stock you placed and what you lost/The cuts that made you bleed … the climb is harder than the fall, and your tumbling down again.”

It’s a bit strange to hear a group of young men sing about a time they didn’t live in, but the resulting mixture of dark folk rock and mythical history makes for an adventurous listen.  

Music reviewer Michael Elizabeth Sakas can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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