3 out of 5 stars
What began as a side project that bloomed from The Decemberists’ inner circle has now become a full-time day job with an identity all its own. Three albums on, Black Prairie has shed most of the bluegrass trappings that they invested in originally and evolved instead into a band that’s no longer constrained by any predetermined course or identity. Clearly at ease with their current standing, the aptly titled Fortune reflects a general sense of confidence and no holds-barred attitude, a feeling manifest in thirteen tracks flush with freewheeling ambition.
That anything goes approach is evident at the outset with the chirpy and effusive “The 84,” a song that suggests the possibilities are indeed all open. Whether surging through the kinetic constructs of “Let It Out,” “Trask” and “The White Tundra,” or plying through the sublime designs of “If I Knew You Then,” “Be Good” and “Songs To Be Sung,” the band follows their instincts and switch their tactics accordingly. At times, the sudden shifts are rather dizzying, given the fact that a Led Zep-style scorcher such as “Let Me Know Your Heart” can occupy the same set as a suggestive and seductive come-on like “Animal Inside.” However, at this point in their trajectory, Black Prairie’s essential identity still seems up for grabs, and clearly it’s the music, not the mechanics that are dictating their present direction.
For some, that sense of spontaneity may disappoint. After all, it was rather fascinating to find a clever cutting-edge outfit like The Decemberists spinning off a group with such traditional intents, and a bluegrass focus at that. If nothing else, it was a clever ploy to hang their handle on. Still, ready hooks aside, Black Prairie’s arc is apparently as wide and vast as any dark and fertile plains could be.