David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble - Sliding The Same Way - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble - Sliding The Same Way

by Christina Bryant Rating:8 Release Date:2014-09-27

On September 23, Song, by Toad Records apologized for the delayed release of David Thomas Broughton and Juice Vocal Ensemble’s Sliding the Same Way because they were “trying to do something a bit special and clever, and I [Song, by Toad] completely underestimated how long it would take to iron out the wrinkles with the manufacturer.”

Given Broughton’s past decade of haunting, but playfully constructed experimental folk that defies following the rules, the full package will be worth the wait. On previous albums, such as The Complete Guide to Insufficiency or Outbreeding, Broughton layers live recorded loops, mostly improvised and at times imperfect, to create both harmonious and discordant stories that have a way of relaxing you one minute and getting under your skin the next.

The technique on Sliding the Same Way is the same, but Brougton has teamed up with Juice Vocal Ensemble, an adventurous trio of women (Anna Snow, Sarah Dacey and Kerry Andrew) that use their stunning vocal control to tackle everything from more classic a cappella arrangements to beatboxing, Guns N' Roses or bluegrass. What results is a dynamic combination of talent and unapologetic play involving voice and guitar.

The album opens with 'In Service', a sparse ballad sung by a man serving time for a murder. Broughton’s warm and resonant voice almost tricks you into thinking this is a lovely background album for the upcoming autumn, but it quickly moves into a place of moral ambiguity that demands engagement. He sings not only of the murder that landed him in jail, but of the condoned murders he committed for his country.

Meanwhile, Juice Vocal Ensemble’s washes of sound have disintegrated into sputtering death rattles. The song abruptly shifts into a jazzy guitar riff and fades out to the Ensemble’s eerie pop refrain of “killed a man with a broken glass.” This is absolutely a perfect album for the fall descent, but only if you are willing to accept that you have no idea where it is going to lead.

The album continues with 'The Assurance', which is anything but one. Exploring the passage of time and unavoidable death, Broughton’s skill as a lyricist shines with short, but existential declarations such as “I lived with my mother until I died as a child.” The Ensemble adds intrusive ticks, buzzing, and echoing whistles, with Broughton’s guitar growing ever nervous about the lost time.

'A Man to Call My Own' showcases the Ensemble’s crystalline vocal weaving, intertwined with Broughton’s deep and regretful tones. It’s a meek story of lasting love not found, lightened by the jazzy beatboxing of 'Been a While'. Next is 'The Promise', on which the Ensemble’s opening vocals echo as if in a church. Broughton’s guitar is a rhythmic base, the focus on his beautiful imagery and a rather jarring promise that causes you to question everything that was just spoken.

'Woodwork' is a dark and restless a capella, but its spiritual-sounding harmonies carry the listener beautifully into 'Yorkshire Fog', one of the more accessible tracks on this album, but no less evocative. More traditional in its structure, the reoccurring chorus (“I’m sodden from the dew”) brings a reassuring smile to your face while urging you to run away as fast as you can run.

'Oh, Nurse of Mine' subtlety shows how quickly these sparse songs can shift in tone, moving from suppressed coughs on a death-bed to sprightly hand-claps of appreciation. 'Unshaven Boozer' is a heartfelt, lightly swinging pub song, filled with whispers and secrets that devolve into steam-powered hisses of failure. And lastly, 'Sliding the Same Way' is a bittersweet declaration that carries us out in a dark mantra.

Sliding the Same Way makes for a deceptively easy first listen, and Broughton’s thick crooning could lead you to think he’s performing a pastiche, or trying to lull you. But sit with this album, ideally with lyrics in hand,and you will find that David Thomas Broughton and Juice Vocal Ensemble have captured the richness of life and death in a way that is both sincere and ridiculous, and therefore honest.

This album will not coddle you, but it also will not make a spectacle out of the roughness of life as, say, The Decemberists sometimes do. It is a lot harder to peg than that, perhaps more akin to Sufjan Stevens murky emotional waters, with the free abandon of Devendra Banhart’s song structuring, or lack thereof. And if you engage, you’ll find damp, rotting, layers to dig through. 

David Thomas Broughton

Juice Vocal Ensemble

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