Album review: The Faux Paws are genuinely captivating, unique

The Faux Paws: Chris Miller, left, and brothers Noah and Andrew VanNordstrand.

Waiting 10 years to record its debut certainly paid off for The Faux Paws.

Andrew VanNorstrand (vocals, guitar, fiddle), his brother Noah VanNorstrand (vocals, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, feet percussion) and Chris Miller (vocals, sax, banjo) traveled all across America on their own, and as members of the upstate New York contra dance band Great Bear and other ensembles. All the while they honed a unique, captivating style. And by that, they’ve delivered a sparkling, 11 out of 11 winners of an album.

An abundance of sweet violin fills the enchanting grooves they create, but these boys didn’t set out to simply fiddle around. Instead, they mix folk, bluegrass and soul organically, as if destined to pull off the brew flawlessly.

Right away in “The Fourth Decade,” featuring Noah on fiddle and Andrew and Chris on banjos, there’s wonderment in the fluttering and sweeping rhythmic patterns. The song envelops the listener, and sets up the unlikely “She’s Not Looking for You.” In that, Andrew sings, in a voice full of innocence, of every man’s fears about being attracted to a lady and finding out quickly that he doesn’t have a chance. Catchy strums of acoustic guitar kick the song off into Eagles territory, but it quickly takes flight on Celtic and ‘grass-tinged wings. Miller’s muted, soulful sax playing offsets the VanNorstrands’ delicate picking and the guest rhythm section (who play throughout the album), and illustrates the warmth, skipping heart, and ultimate heartbreak of the moment. In days past, this beautiful song would have been a massive hit.    

Those feelings of unrequited love, as well as settings in places as far-flung as Montauk Point, the Virginia hills, and the Great Lakes, are the subjects and canvases for these stunning paintings of life close to home; a life we’re all rambling through. “Racing the Sun,” with its old-time vaudeville vibe, celebrates perseverance and hope. “Guacmaster” paints the scene of folks happily dancing around the kitchen, creating the perfect recipe. “Dirt Nap” feels like waking up from one, jumping and shaking off the spiders and snakes.

Imaginative instrumentals are interspersed among the inspiring vocal tunes, each and every one taking on a persona, and compelling the listener to stay until the end. The band’s play-on-a-phrase moniker (bear paws, perhaps?) works as both tongue-in-cheek humor and to draw attention to exactly what they aren’t. There is nothing artificial, nothing embarrassing or tactless for miles around this music. This trio obviously loves what its doing, and is expert at it. The Faux Paws play fresh, fully realized, head, heart and hand-made rhythm and groove music of the highest order.

-Tom Clarke

  • Faux Paws
    Faux Paws’
    Label:
    Great Bear Records
    Release: Friday, Aug. 27

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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