This is a 12-track release that features sultry blues, sparsely accompanied ballads, introspective singer-songwriter material, gypsy swing with eastern European infusions (or vice versa), sly novelty songs, and driving bluegrass. It could pass comfortably as an anthology of diverse styles and players.
However, as a cohesive statement from a single quartet, which is what the group Red Herring from The Netherlands ends up being, it suffers from being so widely scattered over the musical map. The singers are all very different stylistically: Bassist Loes van Schaijk on her sinuous opening song “No Hearts Won” and the lively versions of Reno & Smiley’s “Barefoot Nellie” and the traditional “Wedding Dress”; Joram Peeters on his wink-wink/nudge-nudge originals “A Loved Man’s Lonely Blues” and “I’d Rather Die Alone,” as well as a rollicking rewrite of the Child Ballad “The Two Sisters”; and Arthur Deighton on his softly introspective originals “The Longest Day” and “The Beaten Track.” They’re all excellent in their own way, with van Schaijk’s expressiveness and versatility in different settings proving more effective overall than Deighton’s soft delivery and Peeters’ slippery phrasing.
The instrumental work is great throughout, with banjo, fiddle, resonator guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, guitar, and bass used in a variety of settings that keep things fresh for the listener from song to song. Unexpected touches, such as the foot percussion that supports the otherwise a cappella “Wedding Dress” and the novel, to say the least, pairing of uilleann pipes and banjo on “Rather Die Alone,” show Red Herring to be an ensemble unafraid to take risks.
The liner notes and press material reveal that the group lost its banjoist, Floris de Vries, in the midst of their making this CD, which may be the primary reason there’s a slight disjointedness about the album as a whole. With Paul van Vlodrop now holding down the banjo chair, the combination of steady personnel, and the obvious vocal and instrumental talents of the bandmembers should bring a clearer musical focus to future projects. For now, Here To Distract You is an intriguing representation of a band trying to develop its collective voice from a variety of individual ones. (www.redherringband.com)HK