Album Review – The Calamity Cubes “Old World’s Ocean”
It’s curious how rarely these two sides of the roots world come together, but if you take the Avett’s energy and exploration of emotionalism, mixed with the rawness of underground roots, what you get is the Wichita, KS-based Calamity Cubes. Banjo, guitar, and upright bass, they’re not afraid to bare their naked soul in a song, or come crashing into the mosh pit instruments and all.
They say to make it in music today you need a distinct voice. Well The Calamity Cubes have two of them; the deep, brooding baritone of Brook Blanche, and the whimsical, character-filled sighs of Joey Henry. Bass player Cody Oh! is not afraid to sing one too, or be the solid harmony backing up Brook and Joey. Get them all going at once and it’s something special. Live, it is the energy of The Calamity Cubes that first captures you, but soon you gravitate toward the soul encapsulated in the vocals, and the ponderous nature of the songwriting.
Old World’s Ocean puts The Calamity Cubes’ bevy of talents on glorious display. Excellent songwriting is conveyed through flawless vocal performances and inventive music. The Cubes are mostly a tale of the two songwriters Joey And Brook, with each singing their own compositions, but the album starts off with a very collaborative song “Anchors The Way” where the three men’s voices weave and intertwine.
One of the slight misgivings I’ve had about the Cubes in the past is Joey Henry’s tendency to strum the banjo instead of pick. Outside of of certain ragtime circles, banjo strumming is somewhat unaccepted, but in “Anchors The Way” and other Calamity Cubes songs, Joey shows how the banjo’s unique ring set to an engaging rhythmic pattern can do wonders for the shivers housed along the human spine.
Brook Blanche is credited with the lion share of the songwriting on Old World’s Ocean, and supplies the songs of drinking and heartache. One great thing about The Calamity Cubes is they each display such great character through their music and appearance, and they are so distinct and unique, yet counter-balance each other perfectly. Brook seems a wash of emotions and chemical imbalances that bring his wide, dark, and tall lug to a submission of sways and binges.
Songs like “Rock Chalk” and “Lillybelle” convey a man with little or no control of his delicate side, who’s moaning voice bellows out from the very inner depths of dark human emotions. “Lillybelle” is helped along by an excellent guitar solo by contributor Paul DeCeglie, and marks one of the album’s best tracks along with Brook’s “Empty Bottle” that rivals any country drinking song in depth of songwriting. “Thought I Lost You” is a respite from Brook’s depression, whose genius is in the song’s short length and sweet message.
Joe Henry with his muppet-like hair and disarming warmth draws you in with his whimsy, poetic nature, and his romantic’s heart. His arrangements are more loose, abstract affairs, like musical roller coaster rides. “Bathwater” has a gospel heart, but with a much more progressive, loose approach that’s the perfect vehicle for showcasing Henry’s elevated vocal prowess. Joey Henry closes out the album with the sweet and slyly-wise “Traveling Lovers Lullaby”.
Gospel is one of the building blocks of The Calamity Cubes sound, and makes another appearance in Kody Oh!’s contribution “Salvation”. The other side is represented by Brook Blanch’s skeptical and jaded “Same God”. Strong opinions of politics and religion in music are usually no no’s for me, and this song would fit in that category. But that’s my personal hangup and it would be unfair to say that this song isn’t touched by Brook’s astute songwriting like all the others.
With only three players and no drummer, The Cubes are usually too busy holding down the rhythm to add traditional “solos” to their music. But on Old World’s Ocean they bring in a stable of solid contributors including the aforementioned Paul DeCeglie, and players from another Wichita-based band Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy to help clothe the compositions.
By being unafraid to display their vulnerabilities, yet having an inherent rawness to their music and releasing it through one of the most “hardcore” labels in roots circles in the form of Farmageddon Records, The Calamity Cubes create a unique and important nexus in string-based roots music, and do so while putting out creative, innovative, and entertaining tunes that touch all parts of the musical anatomy.
Two guns up!
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Old World’s Ocean does not have an official release date as of yet, but can be pre-ordered from Farmageddon. It has also been previously made available in limited quantities at XSXSW 5, Farmageddon Fest, and will be available in limited quantities at the upcoming Muddy Roots Festival.
August 23, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
This is 100% my vote for Album of The Year. I can’t shout loud enough that this album was a long time in the making and its one of their best yet and that is hard to do. AMAZING!
August 23, 2012 @ 3:00 pm
They handed me a copy of this in mid-March (about half a year ago for those counting at home) and I’ve been having to sit on it this whole time when I’ve been wanting to tell everyone about it. Glad to see it is finally moving forward with a release.
August 23, 2012 @ 2:29 pm
The Cubes are some outstanding guys who make equally great music. I can’t wait to get this album, and hopefully see them live again soon. It’s been too long since I got to hang with these fellas.
And for the record, I think Mumford And Sons are great. But to each their own.
August 23, 2012 @ 2:49 pm
I don’t hate Mumford & Sons as much as I hate that they do something so very similar to what The Avett Brothers innovated.
August 23, 2012 @ 3:33 pm
I guess I can see that, but it’s hard to for me as I knew Mumford before I knew the Avetts, so it’s a matter of familiarity.
August 24, 2012 @ 12:59 pm
well I knew the Avetts way before Mumford, and while I like to hear the Mumford-sound on the radio, I hate that all their songs sound exactly the same, yet everyone loves it. the Avetts are not on the radio here in Holland at all. both got cds out in september, I’m only interested in the Avetts, but I sure like to get me some Calamity Cubes….
August 25, 2012 @ 9:07 am
theres an article in Spin from last year that Marcus Mumford basically admits that they’re a bad version of Old Crow Medicine Show and Gillian Welch music.
August 23, 2012 @ 4:35 pm
I first heard about SCM from these guys … And now the circle is complete.
These are some hard working fellas who have been working hard on this record. Looking forward to spending some quality time with it (and them!).
August 23, 2012 @ 4:56 pm
Great band, great friends! Great Review!!
August 24, 2012 @ 12:38 am
Hey I think I saw a video of them performing in your barber shop when I was putting this together.
Hold on, here it is…
August 24, 2012 @ 3:25 pm
Nice review. This is a great album, certainly a contender for album of the year for me! I’m curious though, the disc I bought at Farm Fest doesn’t contain “Rock Chalk”. Great song, which I got from a Farmageddon sampler earlier, but it’s not on my disc. Hmmmm
August 25, 2012 @ 1:07 pm
Can’t wait to get this!!!!
August 27, 2012 @ 8:13 pm
First off, this is a fantastic review of what I believe is one the best albums I have heard.
Due to many previous reviews I’ve read about these guys, I feared this was going to be just another article regurgitating the same bile-dripping,uninspired, and half-digested comparisons between The Calamity Cubes! and whatever band or bands are popular at the time. The Calamity Cubes! are repeatedly lumped into a category of bands “spawned” by mainstream acts. I can only imagine this is because whoever wrote those articles didn’t listen.
The Cubes are only spawned by their own genius. Who fucking cares if Joey doesn’t finger-pick the banjo? He gets a sound out of the instrument that is all his own. For example, there are countless guitarists who can play Stevie Ray Vaughan tunes note-for-note, but they shouldn’t because it doesn’t SOUND like SRV. Likewise, Joey Henry has a sound nobody duplicates. If somebody wants to hear Scruggs-style banjo, there’s a genre of music they should explore called bluegrass. Go stand on any corner in Nashville if you want to hear that.
August 28, 2012 @ 10:37 am
Lemme start by agreeing. Awesome review.. now I just can’t wait to get my hot li’l hands on my own copy at Muddy Roots. I first caught the Cubes when they played Martin’s Downtown here in Roanoke… and lemme see they’re a behemoth. Odd to say that about three guys unplugged w/ no drums, etc.. but from the minute these guys take the stage and Brook starts stompin’ that size.. uh what is that? a size 14 boot or so… you’re enraptured. Lyrically, musically and emotionally.. you’re in the moment with these guys. I almost didn’t go to that show because it was a “school night” but I’ve always been glad I did. Now if I could just just get ’em to come back through the ‘noke. (Hear that guys???) I can’t wait to see em again in TN this weekend!!! Sooooo stoked for some Muddy Roots madness and to let my wife actually see the Cubes for the first time!!! Keep up the great work on SCM by the way!!! Love readin’ ya!
August 28, 2012 @ 10:39 am
By the way.. it’s great to hear that Kody’s chiming in a little more this time around than he did on Long Cold Winter!!! It’s like a perfect trinity.. three unique voices.. three unique instruments and three unique feelings.
August 30, 2012 @ 2:24 am
Listening to Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires “There Is A Bomb In Gilead” (Best Exile Era-Stones/Skynyrd/DBT album in years) and laughing at this review of these clowns. You gave the Wrinkle Neck Mules latest 1&1/2 guns and this 2. Ya know the Mules geetarists can play strat, Nashville & pedal steel, mandolin, and finger-pick banjos and that album was recorded live in the studio but the Cubes need studio musicians cause thar urgent insurgent muddy farmin’ moosick ain’t got time fer “solos.” Yeah right. Fer Gawd sakes watch the Mules Geico live video vs. Calamity’s “Skateboard Hips.” Ya might try the Mules “Let The Lead Fly” for some serious picking and songwriting. Done seen the Cubes several times in Wichitar, basically a trustfund baby & two victims of NAFTA. In “Traveling Lover’s Lullaby” Joey doesn’t wanna leave til morning cause he wants ta steal beer outta yer fridge. The Cubes vs. Left Lane Cruiser at Muddy Roots this weekend, sorry guys. Hopefully, they’ll get to see Slim Cessna, Paul James, Rachel Brooke, Jayke Orvis, Pine Hill Haints and take some notes/re-evaluate their life path. Damn Triggerman, love your rants against mainstream cuntry but you’ve been duped by these panhandling charlatans. Doc Boggs useta play for moonshine money but shit he sang “Pretty Polly” like he was gonna dunk her hisself, he’s rollin’ in his grave listenin’ to this crap. Try some Split Lip Rayfield or anything else in the Bloodshot catalog. Oh well, off to Nine Bullets for somethin’ enlightening.
August 30, 2012 @ 6:34 am
Gee Mr. Troll, can I cross your bridge? Or do I first have to answer yee your questions three?
Look, in my review I clearly stated that there was a lack of instrumentation coming from the Cubes, and that Joey Henry plays the banjo like Kermit the Frog. If that’s a beef someone wants to raise with this band, it is a legitimate one, and I won’t argue. I also felt like the creativity and songwriting of this album was enough to override these concerns. Furthermore, they should be praised for acknowledging themselves that this album would be better by bringing in other players. And who they brought in was their friends, it’s not like they flew to Nashville and had the ghost of Chet Atkins compose them a string section.
It is rarely fair to compare artists or albums directly unless you’re attempting to set a context, but you took one song from the Cubes (Skateboard Hips) that is not on this album, and compared it to another song (Let The Lead Fly) that is ALSO not on the Wrinkle Neck Mules last album. I understand they’re both videos, but as a reviewer, I have to attempt to divest knowledge of all previous projects and focus on the ones being reviewed right now.
You can’t argue taste, and because the first names you evoked were Lee Bains and the Wrinkle Neck Mules I will infer (and possibly wrongly) your taste must lie a little more on the rock side than what this website’s focus is. One thing I like to focus on is broadening my readerships focus by talking about albums that are not necessarily country, but are good, and both the Lee Bains and Mules albums I thought were great. But where this one lacks instrumentation, I felt those lacked a little bit of originality.
These are simply my opinions. It’s a given others will have different ones.