The New Paltz-headquartered original acoustic roots band In the Kitchen is the kind of earthy ensemble who might justifiably decide to make a studio album gathered around one omnidirectional microphone in a nice-sounding, woody room and cut it directly to tape. In fact, while this might not be how their debut record was made, that’s the vibe of it: unvarnished and unprocessed and generally unfussy about anything except a buoyant ensemble feel and the direct delivery of sturdy, traditional songs about people and stuff.
On their new record, Keeping Time, In the Kitchen do not violate this no-nonsense spirit – they know what they are, after all – but two significant developments are readily apparent. First is a greater regard for both the discrete sound of each instrument and for the separation between them. They sound a little less like one part played by ten hands on five boxes, in a good way. Second is a noticeably more girthy suggestion of rock in the midst of their traditional bluegrass-plus-drums instrumentation. This album has visceral punch and a tight low end: a fine line to straddle in the politically complex world of old folk/new folk aesthetics, but In the Kitchen wears it well. All of the filigree, led by some achingly lovely playing from violinist Evan Shultis, is still right where it needs to be.
The songs belong to the current traditional mode. Ryan Reutershan and Benjy Bruno’s subtle sense of WPA historical voice is not overplayed, as it is by some retro fashionistas, but it is still there, and the reference-borders remain vigilantly guarded to keep a timeless feel, even as many of the songs can be construed as topical. None of this is to suggest that In the Kitchen is caught between styles and identities; they remain, if nothing else, an authentic bunch of friends writing serious and searching songs and enjoying the organic experience of playing together. But it is bracing and fun to hear them investing in their studio game and taking on the challenge of growth: always a tricky proposition for roots purists.
In the Kitchen celebrates the release of Keeping Time at the Falcon Underground on Friday, June 21. Joining them on the bill are Yard Sale, New Paltz’s masters of tricky and baying progressive folk shenanigans. Should be a great night.
In the Kitchen
Friday, June 21, 8 p.m.
The Falcon Underground
1348 Route 9W, Marlboro