It doesn’t seem possible cultural products produced in 2020 are going to be able to pass by without reference to the pandemic. Whether or not those products were flocked to out of sheer relief from the gloom (“Schitt’s Creek”!) or simply can be connected as an answer to or willful ignorance of virus life, the frame of reference is set.
That’s probably not fair to the album “The Longest April” by new Little Rock band Fox Green. There is an air of sadness that blankets this record that in a different time — like, you now, 2018 — might not seem so pronounced. Then again, it’s not hard to find clues as to what it’s all about. The title track is clearly about a significant loss and has this repeated line: “Now I’m counting every breath.”
Also, it can’t be ignored that one of the gs in this g-g-b-d band is Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which of course has had to deal with its share of COVID-19. As a guitarist and a songwriter, Patterson joins Wayne Derden, guitarist, songwriter and most of the vocal work; Steve Kapp, upright bass; and Dave Hoffpauir, vocals and drums. Jason Weinheimer, former Boondog and head of the Fellowship Hall studio, is credited as having recorded, mixed and mastered the record along with adding instrumental color.
Add to this potent mix of Little Rock music notables are cameos by Lisa Walker of Wussy, Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie and Peter Stamfel of Holy Modal Rounders. What connects this disparate trio? Patterson has a strong relationship to Robert Christgau, prominent rock critic. Christgau has praised the musical work of all three.
“The Longest April” CD sounds smooth and professional, as assured a musical product that would be released by whatever might be left of the major labels. Fox Green has described its sound as one part Drive-By Truckers, one part R.E.M. and one part “Mirage”-era Fleetwood Mac. The Fleetwood Mac comp seems a stretch but the Drive-By Truckers, thanks in large part to Derden’s pronounced vocal drawl, seems right on the money. Fox Green is much more windswept and abstract in its attack than Drive-By Truckers but it does succeed in making an emotional connection at several points in the record.
“West Someday” is the first song that sinks in, revealing its beauty through prolonged exposure. After opening with a Stones-like “Cloud 9,” “The Longest April” settles into mid-tempo or slower songs. The misstep of “Completely Classified” (which wants to be a novelty but can’t find the right musical footing) jars but the record rights itself with the funny “The Day Marc Bolan Went to Nashville.” A pungent, noir-ish atmosphere is conjured with “Another Lonesome Man,” easily one of the strongest songs here.
The last song, “The Longest April,” punctuated by delicate guitar work both intricate and striking, is one of the shorter songs. It shows up on the stage, expresses a felt agony and then is gone. “The Longest April” is fully of its moment — unfortunate as it is — and is where Fox Green is no longer drawing comparisons to anybody but itself.
This time and the pandemic will pass, of course. One can’t help but hope that Fox Green has a chance to keep going and create something that reflects on and thrives in a happier time.