Folk collective Rock Plaza Central's quick rise to relative prominence with their previous album, Are We Not Horses, is both a comforting reassurance that good music truly can prevail and a reminder of Pitchfork.com's absurdly powerful status as a source of musical guidance in the indie rock circle. I say that partly in jest, but an 8.4 rating certainly didn't hurt their situation (hey, Wikipedia agrees with me!) and the band's concept record about a mechanical horse and his fight against evil became something of a surprise hit in 2006 and 2007. Their new album, the recently released ...at the Moment of our Most Needing, takes a slightly less structured approach than Horses, though the band claims the William Faulkner novel Light in August as a major source of inspiration for the material which indeed carries a strong central theme.
Once again, frontman Chris Eaton's slightly manic tenor voice takes center stage, spinning poetic lyrics over beautifully rough and twisted folk instrumentation. His narratives and musings are filled with thoughtful and genuinely insightful phrases, with his cracked, weary delivery only adding to his lyrical sincerity. Songs like the pleading prayer "O Lord, How Many Are My Foes" and the darkly gorgeous "Them That Are Good and Them That Are Bad" are excellent examples of his songwriting prowess, songs that are uncomplicated in their presentation but of an obvious quality and depth. As literary as his style can seem at times, though, Eaton is rarely wordy, preferring to focus on specific phrases or ideas (see the slowly building opener "Oh I Can"), and with three instrumental tracks on the record, the total word count of ...at the Moment of our Most Needing is almost surprisingly low.
Consequently, it isn't just Eaton that shines on the album; the band deserves high praise for their ability to provide nearly perfect backdrops to each section of the story, sometimes carrying it entirely. The blaring horns, delicate strings, gritty guitar, etc. are played expertly but never intrusively, and more often than not, the sextet finds a good balance between musical art and emotional impact which keeps the album consistently both intriguing and enjoyable. Many of the tunes, like the twangy "(The World Is) Good Enough" or the pleasant instrumental cut "Country C" are of a more down-tempo nature, but when the group kicks up the pace with the likes of the deranged "Holy Rider," the results are equally impressive (especially the superb, quirky percussion).
There are moments on this record that I enjoy less than others, but it's difficult to label anything as a true misstep or weak spot when the entire experience feels so complete and satisfying. I'm a perpetual sucker for Americana and folk records and I can easily say that ...at the Moment of our Most Needing is the among the most enjoyable albums of its type that I've heard in quite some time. Emotional, intelligent, and wholly absorbing, this record is further reason to laud Rock Plaza Central as one of indie folk music's quickly rising stars.
Check out the band on MySpace or click here to download the album's first single, "(Don't You Believe the Words of ) Handsome Men."