The Old Edison arrived at a time when folk and punk music had already held hands, gotten married, had five kids and renewed their vows in a sickening display of co-dependency. But as founding member Liam Boyle says, “the only reason this isn’t a punk band is because we didn’t have a drummer and we couldn’t afford amps. But we had acoustic guitars.” Acoustic instruments work to The Old Edison’s advantage and give warmth to songwriting that is already brutally honest. Their LP Story-Yelling is self proclaimed ‘hood folk’, from the avenues of South Boston. For non-New Englanders, this album is like an anthropological account of those neighborhoods. Low wages, good friends, and cheap alcohol have shaped the men and women in this band, and they’re coming to your state to tell you about it.
For those who pray at the altar of Tim Barry, Ben Nichols or Chuck Ragan, Story-Yelling is a gold mine of new favorite anthems. And I mean a god damn bottomless gold mine, with gems and crystals and canary skeleton eating bat-goblins. Just hear out the first track, "Faith in My Fretboard". It has whiskey blown harmonica, bottle clanking and a Bouncing Souls reference all under one roof. Boyle laments, "that on and on, we’re still true believers”, with all the certainty a man can muster. If that doesn’t sum up your wasted life, than you’ll probably find solace in some obscure Green Day/Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack mash-up.
Some of these shanties are rooted in folk tales of another time, yet they exist where tribulation is without end. "And Start West" relays the timelessness of outlaw towns, and the gunslingers who call them home. Pan flute haunts the solemn "Between Wind and Water," incurring legends of seafarers and ships. On "Brownstone," I can clearly envision a cold, barren Boston street capped in frozen muck and drifting snowflakes. In between chords I can hear the drunken storm of a crowd at the Middle East, huddled together for warmth and solace. Just the same, I can hear a hoard of factory workers in a tavern, a hundred years ago, singing the same song. With the same family name and troubles.
Drums and amps don’t belong, as they would take away from the weight of words. Outstanding lyrics are plentiful, and every single verse is bellowed out with the lacerated throat of a thousand cigarettes chased with healthy swigs of auburn spirits. And although The Old Edison shuns the whole folksy Americana thing, these tunes do take on a stunning tapestry of traditional folk instruments. Harmonica and fiddle replace lead guitar, while the mandolin and banjo strings lay down a rhythmic presence. Story-Yelling sounds as if it were recorded live, with no overdubs or second chances. The shear roar of everyone belting out as one is captured perfectly throughout, especially with the call and response of "Wits and Guns."
"One Drink Away" celebrates defeat proportionately with what has already been gained. Even if it’s just the possession of a moment, a guitar, or the simple will to survive. "Dead Vulture Hurricane" gives a second glance to a relationship that went salty, with a doozie of a refrain. It's a joyous glorification of betrayal that will etch itself into your conscience. The sing-along hooks aren’t really as scattered, as much as they comprise every scrap of The Old Edison’s set list. Instead of trying to be enigmatic or distance themselves from listeners, Edison are right in the trenches with you. This truly is material for folks who invent their own prayers and just need a melody to shout them out to.
The outcome of Story-Yelling is an uplifting album of tales, old and new. In an era where acoustic bands are regularly filtered onto daytime television show stages, The Old Edison do more than chime in with rare sincerity. They fight back. The unpolished, straightforward beauty of folk music unites with the magic of what has made the Boston punk scene persevere for so long. It also doesn’t hurt if you’re listening to it live, with many a malted forty in your stomach and good friends at your side.
The Old Edison's discography is available at their Bandcamp, here.They will also be at Cherry Street Station, in Wallingford on August 26th.