“Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1”
(Meliphonic Records)

Midwestern dustbowl vibes where crops were king, once, and now strip malls rule life and choke soil. That’s how it is in Tennessee, home of Meliphonic Records and its stable, offshoots like vines from a sturdy trunk desperately trying to reclaim some semblance of history. Offshoots like Pumpkinseed, aka Daniel Gardner, and Wica Intina, aka Dakota Brown, neither content to be forgotten fragments cast by global tremors. It doesn’t matter how loud they shout it, or whether they shout at all – they’re still cogs in the machine, whether they like it or not, as we all are, but they’re much better at making us feel OK about it. There may even be some glimmer of hope there after all, in the end.

Immediately calling to mind lo-fi mavens Barlow and Pollard but settling into a world-weary folk tableau recalling Dylan, Guthrie, and even Leonard Cohen, Pumpkinseed and Wica Intina are a perfect match for one another. And yeah, Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1 is 1960s American Dream-y to its core, which of course is cast in the harsh light of what passes for optimism these days. Meaning it’s pretty fucking un-optimistic out there in good old 2016. Pumpkinseed is the bedroom tape rocker, drenching his recordings in hiss and moving about from one lo-fi style to the next, even stumbling into the 1970s a little bit on “Dickey’s Fever Dream,” a little CSN action amid the GBV worship. It’s good worship, and he even manages some found-sound cutup work on “Yanga Yanga.” And like Pollard, Pumpkinseed is a middle finger against the darkness and a Bic lighter raised high in solidarity with the young, ready masses. Take it over, baby.

Wica Intina, fresh off work with his band Sheep Bella Tine, is more deliberate, more intimate, and more willing to embrace melancholia. It suits him, as his lengthy ballads dissipate like wistful vapor in the ears of the longing. Did things really used to be so simple? Is the absence of that simplicity what’s driving us all closer and closer to the edge of the cliff? Taking a step back, breathing, communicating, communing – Wica Intina absolutely invites these activities. He stretches his lengthy tracks like Dylan, telling stories about other people and bringing them to life. He reminds us that Tennesseans are people too, not just specks on the ground as viewed from airplane windows by people on their way to bigger and better cities. Those passengers forgot that we’re all from the same place, when it comes down to it.

These two musicians are at the forefront of a burgeoning Tennessee music scene, and Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1 is as good a first impression as you’re gonna get. But hey, don’t just take my word for it – Meliphonic has a fairly deep catalog, so check the rest out too.

--Ryan Masteller