Story last updated at 9/9/2009 - 11:37 am
Most successful bands have steady members, rehearse consistently and play gigs on a semi-regular basis, but The Preserves have proven that alternative methods can also produce positive results. The group has enrolled a revolving cast of musicians, to date only performing one three-song set per year on the Alaska Folk Festival Stage. Their first album was released this April, and their first real gig will take place this week, fifteen years after their genesis.
"How Excellent & Civilized Are We" is, simply put, just plain fun. From the start of the first track, "Stone Soup," it's obvious that the amusement began at the moment that songwriters began writing their ideas down, continued through the arrangement process and was designed to make its way to the listener.
The Preserves have only previously appeared as a festival band, often cramming up to 12 musicians on stage at one time. The 24 credited musicians on the album have done a great job of capturing that festival feeling through the use of a wide variety of instruments and choruses of voices, which create the ambiance of an audience singing along at a live performance.
With every new track, a different style or new instrument is introduced, keeping the flow of the album constantly moving forward and keeping listeners on their toes. The instrumental solos are top-notch, balancing pleasantly with vocals to produce satisfying pieces that leave little lacking.
The lyrics contain a sprinkle of Alaskan flare, an element that many local musicians take overboard, in my opinion. Not so with The Preserves. They've included enough inside references to subtly let Alaskans know that this is Alaskan music without making us feel uncomfortable about it.
Songwriter Tony Tengs, lead vocalist on several tracks, has mastered the art of talk singing, inflecting spirited animation in his voice that is often only heard in children's music. Youngsters will enjoy the music, though it is lyrically very adult in a family-friendly way.
You may feel a bit nervous while listening to the final track, "Curly Hair." This track, in which Tengs freely brings a taboo topic to the spotlight, quickly became my favorite as soon as I discovered it. Tengs calls it "the great song of unity for all humankind," and after a listen you will probably agree.
A true artist invites their audience to look at something in a unique way, provoking insight and reflection. The Preserves do so in a lighthearted manner with "How Excellent & Civilized Are We." They have promised no sequel, but whether the group splits or continues to collaborate, its members have no intentions of abandoning their craft.
"How Excellent & Civilized Are We" is available for purchase at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Paradise Café, cdbaby.com, iTunes and at the band's Web site, thepreserves.net.