Spirit Family Reunion sounds like its members came straight out of a backwoods revival. It’s easy to imagine them ramblin’ through towns delivering the good news: Americana ain’t dead. Despite their Southern-influenced sound, SFR actually calls New York City their home. They use the city as a stomping ground to create some of the most organic roots music out there. Their second full-length album, Hands Together delivers foot-stompin’, sweaty folk wrapped up in a positive message.
The 12-track album kicks off with the heady “Wake Up, Rounder!” The band has been playing this song live for a while, but it finally makes its recorded debut on Hands Together. Good thing too. The song manages to retain the same energy it has in live performances—always a challenge with folk music. It’s a song that welcomes you in and invites you to sing along.
“It Does Not Bother Me” follows right after and keeps spirits high. It’s an unabashedly happy song about letting the small stuff roll off. The simple harmonies mix well with the banjo, the upright bass, and the snappy percussion. “Fill My Heart With Love” is a pretty straightforward tune about casting off negativity and embracing love. It’s not necessarily new material, but it’s tender and believable.
The banjo picks the intro to “Skillet Good And Greasy.” This song is a bit darker, but none the less affecting. Nick Panken and Maggie Carson’s vocals complement each other beautifully in this track and throughout Hands Together. Another song that’s been floating around in the Spirit Family Reunion repertoire is “Put Your Hands Together When You Spin The Wheel.” It’s a fast-paced tune about working toward something better. “Put your hands together when you spin the wheel, keep it turning/There is something better than the way you feel.” This song conjures images of muggy summer nights spent dancing in the grass.
All of the songs on Hands Together satisfy, but hearing Carson take lead vocals on “Once Again” made for an especially joyful listen. Her voice is clear and she sings out like she’s giving you permission to join her. The album slows things down with “Wait For Me” and “Don’t Be A Liar.” Panken’s earnest vocals carry through feelings of being stuck and heartbroken. There’s something melancholic in tone about the way he sings throughout Hands Together—as if he’s trying to get back to a better place that he isn’t sure exists anymore. It is present even in the joyous songs and gives the album a bittersweet quality.
The last hoorah comes from “All The Way Back Home.” It’s a traveling song fit for dirt roads woven into countrysides. Hands Together ends with “Nighttime in Nevada,” a lullaby of sorts. It’s wistful and nostalgic in a way that folk/roots music often is. “Nighttime in Nevada” maintains the communal vibe of the record and it ties it up nicely—especially since we began with “Wake Up, Rounder!”
There is something to be said for music that makes you feel good. Spirit Family Reunion seem to understand that, and they’ve honed in on that life-giving quality of Americana music. These songs are meant to be heard in a barn and sung with friends. If Hands Together had to be summed up in a sentence it’s: There is indeed a reunion, and we are all invited.