FRONTIER RUCKUS – On The Northline (Loose Music)

On The NorthlineFrontier Ruckus’ new album, On The Northline, sings with its Midwest Americana Great Lakes big waved melodies. The very first song, ‘Swore I Had A Friend’ is wind-blown, without a lighthouse heart in turbulent waters, but nicely dramatic with trumpet flourishes, the swirling sounds of Zach Nichols and his singing saw, the honest comfort of Mattthew Milla’s vocals, and the ghostly shipwrecked memories of David Jones’ lovely and lonely banjo plucked hope.

Then, ‘Everywhere But Beside You’ is a melodic banjo-pulsed ode to my own Midwest terra firma, “with a debt to someone I don’t even know” where “the cashier at Home Depot knows my name.” The tune is as catchy as ‘House At Pooh Corner’, without any bear with a “honey jar stuck on his nose” fantasy. It’s a brilliant song that is seeded in the vegetable melodies of band’s Michigan homegrown weekend farmers markets.

And, ‘Magalene (That’s Not Your Name)’ stretches the banjo farmland expanse into simple confession of lost love, and perhaps a lost life that’s like “a broken Coke machine”. Sometimes, life is nothing more than the admission, “The gift certificate that you gave me expired today”. Major writer Matthew Milla’s lyrics reserve a slight tightrope respite over a straight-edged razor resolve. Nice.

The title song, ‘On The Northline’, ups the harmony quotient, and really does echo the 70’s folk ethos of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which was just (Thank you, Brewer and Shipley!) “One toke over the line”.

That 70’s styled folk continues. The beautiful banjo-graced ‘Mercury Sable’, with more haloed trumpet, rekindles the late 60’s baroque pop sound of Love, and (my beloved) Appaloosa. And ditto for the up-tempo and irresistible ‘Clarkston Pastures’ that has the folk-pop perfection of The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers. Nice, once again!

The press release makes the very interesting comment that the lyrics contain “Milla’s poetic observations on the mundane and the holy”. Now, perhaps it’s my own nearsighted vision, by that juxtaposition certainly captures the “green and pleasant land” of my own Wisconsin-Michigan Great Lakes honest “Country Comfort” (Thank you, William Blake and Bernie Taupin!).

And I know about that Midwest Americana “Country Comfort”. True story: my transmission coughed up its final gear shift on our I-43 Highway. I was stranded, with my hood (aka bonnet) raised for no more than three minutes when two good Samaritans stopped to give me assistance. One car was an Oldsmobile sedan, driven by an old man with his wife in the passenger seat. Both wore huge sunglasses. The other car was a Mazda compact loaded with college girls on their way to Madison Badgers football game with red and white pompoms ready to cheer. Young people in my Wisconsin do that sort of thing.

Yeah, that’s the lovely vibe of this album as ‘In The Money’ drops the drama and sings with acoustic simplicity, and yes, that lovely banjo and saw quaver in unique harmony. Then, the wide-open ‘Bloomfield Marriott’ talks with pure humanity from Somewhere, USA to Somewhere Else, USA. People in America do that sort of thing, too.  And, ‘First Song For Lauren’ is yet another acoustic-plucked introspective reverie. To cite the modern re-born zeit-folk-geist, Frontier Ruckus will certainly appeal to fans of wonderful bands like Caamp and Sons Of The East.

By the way, even after all these years, I still feel bad about making all those college girls on their way to a Madison football game move over and squeeze me into their Mazda Wisconsin Badger fan compact car! “Mundane to holy”, indeed!

That confessed, the musical journey into Midwest local colour continues. ‘The Machines Of Summer’ pairs the trademark trumpet with a pedal-steel country dance step. The great 70’s band (from our neck of the woods) Mason Proffit comes to mind. Next, the spooky ‘I’m Not The Boy’ rivets with psychological speculation, as the band soars into musical heights with banjo, an accordion, acoustic guitar, (more!) trumpet, and musical saw, all letting loose into the carved grooves of the certain vinyl album release. The final song, ‘Wherefore’, continues with that instrumental prowess, and with a beautiful banjo/steel guitar (and everything else!) glide, lands the album with a featherbed touch of hospitality.

Main lyric guy Matthew Milla said, “I’m obsessed with locality”. And so goes the album. As I said, On The Northline sings with its Midwest Americana Great Lakes big waved melodies, that with friendly magic, turn a mundane transition break down into (perhaps not exactly “holy”) but quite, among our cows, sheep, big red barns, and a lot of really cool local bands, a very enjoyable hitchhiked Midwest ride.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘On The Northline’ – official video:

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