As a native Kentuckian living in central Ohio, I often feel out of my element. I don’t really know anyone, understand the bizarre Ohio seasons or understand the whole Michigan rivalry thing. As such, it is a pleasant reminder of my roots to experience something that capitalizes on the nostalgia of home. So when I stumbled across the tiny discography of a small, relatively unknown folk quintet from my region of Kentucky, I was head over heels.
With their newest EP, “Memory Fever,” the Louisville, Kentucky-based folk outfit Bendigo Fletcher have perfectly captured the ethos of Appalachia, and harken back to the rural wilds of eastern Kentucky and the comforts of childhood. Their voices, clear and warbling over a few sparse strings, guitar chords and loose drums, capture the soul of the whole region of which is so deeply ingrained in me.
At just seven tracks, “Memory Fever” offers more than most 20-track albums can in layering, complexity and musical originality. The record offers a deep exploration of memories, struggle and love. Its simplicity and gorgeous, nostalgic production has inspired me to reminisce on childhood, my own struggles and living life in an unfamiliar place. Track by track, the record constantly offers new perspectives, new sounds and constantly invites listeners to go deeper within themselves, their memories and the EP itself.
Bendigo Fletcher has done some growing up since their 2018 EP “Consensual Wisdom,” their first seven-track offering. A compilation of their earliest works, “Consensual Wisdom” feels like a record conceived on the porch of a log cabin overlooking the Ohio River. Heavily inspired by the region’s traditional Bluegrass and folk music, lucky banjos, soft electric guitars and positively soaring vocals populate an atmosphere of rugged naturality, free-spirited abandon and love in its purest and rawest form.
“Soul Factory” opens the EP with powerfully emotional and deeply soulful vocals, setting the tone for the rest of the piece to convey the band’s message and theme. Tracks like “Wonderfully Bizarre” and “Green Murder” evolve throughout their run-time from simple ballads to exquisite journeys through the thin, winding roads of the Kentucky back country. With these tracks too, the vocals, with regular choral support and layered harmony, are entrancing and beautiful.
The production of tracks like “Pinhead Boy” are another exploration of the record’s technical simplicity and expertise. Carried by a soft, buzzing harmonica which drops out in the chorus, the track’s instrumental leaves listeners to focus on the vocal acrobatics required by Bluegrass music. In the instrumental bridge, the harmonica begins its song again, pushing the song’s narrative forward. Meanwhile, “To the Red River” perfectly captures the echoing cliffs and soaring mountain tops of eastern Kentucky, sparking my own memories of visiting the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge in those mountains as a child. Each track on the record both makes me feel like I am back home and astounds me at the level of production a small, local group is able to pull off.
On “Memory Fever,” though, the band steps away from their Bluegrass roots to take a dip into the sublimity of memories: childhood, recent and everywhere in between. The record feels more like a hazy dream than a reckless trip through the Appalachian wilderness. Due largely in part to the heightened and more detailed production the band has explored on this new EP, the record feels more focused, transitioning from sound to sound as memories come and go. While the record still touches on themes and sounds that its predecessor did, Bendigo Fletcher certainly takes risks in stepping out of their folk comfort zone into a mysterious blend of Bluegrass, folk, soft rock and even poetry.
Tracks like “AMF” expertly introduce this new sound, relying on low-key electric guitar riffs, drums and layers of vocal and electronic production. Meanwhile, tracks like “Chocolate Garden” and “Between Supper and Dinner” feel like a callback to more traditional Bluegrass music, layering banjos with warbling choruses with stunning results. Both tracks offer a slow, irresistible simplicity and emotional courage.
“Jackrabbit” steps outside of the Appalachia for the first time in the band’s history, exploring the Kennywood amusement park outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its guitar swells perfectly emulate the rickety rises and falls of the real Jackrabbit ride, a particularly treacherous wooden coaster at the park. “Solar Eclipse 8/21/17” is perhaps my favorite single of 2019 so far- its instrumental, soulful vocals and forlorn lyrics craft a simply perfect reflection on heartbreak, struggle and life in the region. Closing with “Last One Out of the Water,” a slow, swaying encapsulation of sunset over a lake surrounded by trees.
Listening to Bendigo Fletcher’s duo of EP’s has been one of the most pleasant musical experiences I have had the opportunity to experience this year. Their nostalgic, uniquely Kentuckian sound offers both a nuanced take on traditional folk music from the area and an exploration into the soul of Appalachia. It reminds me of growing up surrounded by farms and forests, visiting the sweeping vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and being intently occupied by the beauty of my surroundings. Together, “Memory Fever” and “Consensual Wisdom” have made an astounding impact on me, and I cannot wait to see where Bendigo Fletcher takes me next.