For the Record

by by Gillian Brassil

Wolfe Moon, Tallahassee
[self-released], 2009

All too often, "local music" is just a euphemism for "my older brother’s shitty power-pop trio," but for those of us fortunate enough to live in Providence, there are plenty of exceptions. Tallahassee, a five-man indie folk act, is one of them. Granted, not a single band member is actually a local; they hail from Ohio, upstate New York, and Florida. Still, the men of Tallahassee—whose name comes from a Muskogean Indian word that translates to “old town”—met and formed the group here in Providence, so they can rightfully call it home. 

Wolfe Moon is Tallahassee’s first album, set to be released on November 14. The band recorded the album in June 2009 at RISD’s Tap Room, a church-turned-barroom. More than either of those settings, though, Wolfe Moon evokes a cabin in the Appalachians, a place of heartache and hushed beauty. Its 11 songs range from slow campfire waltzes to raucous, desperate anthems. Vocalist Brian Barthelmes laces his words with twang and longing half-yodel over the work of his bandmates: Scott Johnson’s gently-plucked guitar, Alex Spoto’s aching fiddle, Shawn Carney’s earnest mandolin, Abraham Kelso’s heartbeat-like percussion.

To be sure, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking about Tallahassee; there are plenty of other groups producing lovely, woodsy music. Providence alone has produced two indie folk acts currently nudging their way onto the national scene: Deer Tick and the Low Anthem. Tallahassee, though, is likely the only one fronted by a former NFL player—Barthelmes was a lineman for the New England Patriots but left to become a social worker. Still, there’s no reason to discount their quiet competence just because they’re not re-inventing the genre.

In fact, the strongest tracks on Wolfe Moon are the simplest: the sweet, wistful promises of love in “Seafaring Legs,” the fierce assertion of self in “Greg’s Song.” It’s enough that these songs are thoughtful, that both instruments and lyrics are overwhelmingly sincere, that there is a warmth to this album which makes listening to it feel like being held. That these traits aren’t produced by some bearded gang of mountain men, that they’re rooted right here in distinctly unforested Providence, is a testament to a superlative local scene. We’re lucky these five men found it. 

Tallahassee will play at Firehouse 13 on Friday, September 25 at 9 PM.