I got an email a while back from Lilah Larson—guitarist, vocalist, and band manager of sorts for Sons of an Illustrious Father—telling me that the group had put together some new recordings. Rockland Magazine readers probably remember the trio, made up of Larson, banjo player Sofia Albam, and cellist Jake Sokolov, from our April 2008 issue, where they appeared as one of our “Rockland Idols.”
The charm of the group was that they sounded so rough. We first heard them play on a MySpace recording from a performance at Nyack’s Riverspace. The quality was shoddy, but somehow it seemed to fit the style of music (I’m not taking any cheap shots by saying that, either). They were covering songs like, “Go Down Moses,” an old African-American spiritual, popularized by Paul Robeson way back in the 1920s. It was great hearing three teenagers belt out those lyrics, and strum their guitars like they were recklessly sawing a cord of firewood. The crowd noise, the vocal clipping on the high end—it all seemed to fit their aesthetic. As I reported the feature, I saw them play live (in Larson’s parents’ living room), and they still carried over some of that energy and spirit.
Albam, Sokolov, and Larson, in the aforementioned living room
Many of the covers they played for me that night, like “Jackson,” the lively number made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter, and “Crazy,” the Patsy Cline ballad, are now out on their MySpace page, recorded cleanly (as opposed to live, at a performance space). I have to say, though, that I was somewhat disappointed by the end product. The problem is that I prefer the band’s sound when I hear them as a whole, through one mic, or a pair of stereo mics. I still enjoy Albam’s throaty vocals, but when they stand out so far above the rest of the mix, her sound really loses its low-budget likability. The same thing goes for Sokolov’s cello playing. It’s good, but on some tracks, like “Crazy,” it seems like it was awkwardly injected into the mix. This set of recordings just doesn’t feel organic enough.
Although I know they’re not 21 yet, I’d rather hear the band playing crumby bars with rowdy patrons and flat acoustics. The songs they have up there are still an intriguing selection of covers—it’s hard to resisist their rendition of “Jackson,” in any incarnation—but they have me yearning for something that sounds a little less digitally true, and a little more like an old, bowed LP.