The comfy pancake breakfast photo on The Sons of Rainier Bandcamp page is a perfect primer for their ‘easy as Sunday morning’ folk oeuvre. The facial haired Sons of Rainier are songwriter, lead vocalist/guitarist Devin Champlin, lead guitarist/high harmony Dean Johnson, Sam Gelband on snare/middle harmony and Charlie Meyer on upright bass. Their sound hints at what may have been a rich musical upbringing, full of old timey gospel, call and response doo-wop, and Doc Watson country-folk waters spilling forth.
Down In Pancake Valley, their debut record, offers lonesome valley harmonies and lukewarm diner coffee amid songs about widows, hobos, love, and themes of traveling away. The existential three (why are we here, what should we do, what happens when we die) are present without whiffs of cynicism or desperation.
“Payette” introduces three harmonizing voices and a dash of tremolo guitar. The song meanders the banks of a lazy river and open country. “Big Clouds” trades jangle bounce for heart-warming twang and feeds the songs’ lyrical aspirations. “Wanna Give My Love” is a sun-streaked surf and turf dominated by a trademark guitar sound popularized by Roy Orbison.
Champlin and co. play like childhood friends who have been singing and dabbling in small-scale mischief for decades. Their home-style serving of folk should be applauded in our current era of pseudo/boy band folk. Their convictions, realistic and honest, help weave an authenticity missing in many of their contemporaries’ songs. “Long Gone” appeals to this description as it dabbles into the jukebox of past barbershop quartets and tumbleweed drifts. Johnson’s guitar pleads melancholy as the three part harmonies reveal a gem to sway the night away with. Follow up “Rooftop” uses jumpy bass, hopscotch guitar, and vocal honey. “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” is stocked with wandering love, wistful and melodic. Guitars sweep the after chorus, pleading as much as the words.
Down In Pancake Valley is a warm body of work, just like the diner photo implies. The strolling lyrics, vibrating guitar strings, and patient singing make for an effortless recording. Now, if only more folk bands could be as comforting as this stack of griddlecakes.