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Sam Moss - Neighbors

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Artist: Sam Moss

Album: Neighbors

Label: self-released

Review date: May. 17, 2012

Sam Moss works the raw, wounded end of Americana, thumping a plaintive rhythm out of banjo strings, singing long mournful notes that twist upwards at the end, like tendrils scrabbling for a few rays of sun. His “Neighbors,” which kicks off this six-song EP, echoes Sam Amidon’s simplicity and Theo Angell’s blues-rooted anguish in untamed, unmannered fashion.

Moss lives just down the road from me in Brattleboro, Vermont, though I’ve never met him face-to-face. Before Neighbors, he had released two other primarily instrumental records, and he had a track called “Miniature Dwellings II” on the Imaginational Anthem IV compilation.

A lot of Americana-based artists emphasize the communal nature of this music, the sense of joy and belonging that can come from singing and playing and stomping along together. Moss’s EP plumbs the lonelier side, the quiet, solitary exploration of picking patterns, the late night howl of hollered blues. His “Blue Moan Blinds” is, perhaps, the album’s most stark expression of existential angst, with its dopplering sustained notes, shifting up like train whistles barreling through empty country, its hard-plucked banjo working as both melody and percussion. The traditional song “Lonesome Valley” is likewise bleak but beautiful, its slow splayed chords and irregularly paced banjo riffs providing a minimalist frame for Moss’s singing. “Spiders on the Ceiling,” the lone guitar-centered track, provides a bit of solace, its melancholy couched in feathery soft picking.

This is a total DIY production, written, performed, and recorded by Moss himself (though Eric Carbonara mastered it). Still, no one would call it lo-fi. There’s an admirable restraint in these tracks, a willingness to set off strong emotional content against the simplest, sparsest arrangements. Notes reverberate for a bit after they’re finished, so that you hear the note itself, and also its ghost and also the silence behind that ghost, in a powerful evocation of longing, loss and memory. Neighbors is the best kind of home-made music, intensely personal, deeply felt and well-played without being fussed over. Nicely done.

By Jennifer Kelly

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