When you think “folk,” artists like Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary probably come to mind – unadorned vocals, spare arrangements and a sort of “hippie” vibe all around. But, like country and Americana, folk music has expanded its definition to accommodate different forms of storytelling. Philadelphia-based duo Rosu Lup describes itself as “dream folk,” and, as the band sings of life and death, love and family, the folk label fits. On their second full-length album, The Ranger, Josh Marsh and Jonathan Stewart have deliberately expanded their musical palette far beyond what you might have heard at a coffeehouse all those decades ago.
The first track on the album begins with a synthesized approximation of an orchestra tuning up for a concert, and it’s apropos – you’ll be hearing many different sounds and textures across the next nine songs. After the initial flourishes, “Come Back Home” settles back into an earnest acoustic-and-voice pairing about returning, well, home, despite the circumstances under which you may have left. At times, the return can be restorative – “Sometimes, the pain that made you leave/Is what brings you back again.” On other occasions, it’s nothing but pain, as with visiting a relative suffering through illness: “She was never one for quitting/But not quitting gets old” (a refreshingly honest take on cancer).
The duo decided to bulk up their layered sound on this release, and the production contributes to that goal with a wash of synths across several tracks, including “Gold & Silver & Light,” which features some nifty interplay between guitar and keys, and “In A Crowd,” perhaps the most musically layered song on the album, beginning with synth and acoustic guitar, building to a brassy cacophony, dropping down to a simple trumpet line from Asher Brooks (whose work pops up frequently on The Ranger), then climaxing in a guitar solo that any 80s fan will relish. There is a LOT of music packed into these tracks, which typically run less than four minutes each.
The songs themselves hew a little closer to what we might consider folk. “Dying Light” is a simple, muted tune about a father’s love – “You’ve got your mother’s eyes/But you act just like me.” Father is pushing child out into a bigger life, but also is reminding him or her to enjoy the world for its best instead of being pulled down by its worst. And, in the album’s closer “White Birch,” the singer tries to find his own place in that world – “Is everything changing/Or am I just passing by?” Even with its spacey synth and manipulated vocals, the plaintiveness in Marsh’s voice reflects what many of us might be struggling with – living as an old soul in a harsh modern world.
Rosu Lup (Romanian for “red wolf’) is Josh Marsh (guitar, lead vocals, keys) and Jonathan Stewart (bass, keys). James McAlister produced The Ranger and played drums, keys and synth. The album was recorded by McAlister, Matt Poirier, Mark Watter and Shane Woods, mixed by Poirier and Yuuki Matthews, and mastered by Christopher Colbert. Additional musicians include Ellen Tiberio-Shultz (guitar, vocals, cello), Katie Hackett (vocals), Mike McNesby (guitar), Mark Watter (guitar), and Megan Carroll (flute).
The Ranger is available for download on all major platforms. Check Rosu Lup’s social media for tour dates.