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Midway Fair | The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak

Album review by John Powell

Midway Fair | The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak

Midway Fair’s The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak is something of a concept album. Each song tackles a slightly different angle of folk, folk-rock, and some sounds very 60s, others 70s, and bits feel 80s and 90s. Its lyrics are, for the most part, timeless, which adds to a sense of fantasy, like a group of minstrels found electric guitars and wrote an album over the course of 500 years. It’s a lush-sounding album with many tiny additions like flute and tambourine that make things three-dimensional. Lead singer Jon Patton has a less than perfect voice, but it rings true and heartfelt, and he never pushes his boundaries, knowing his range and doing the best he can with it. In a way, they sound like Fairport Convention- the latter versions with a male singer.

“The Fairest of Them All” starts everything off, a swung folk tune with piano and flute. The drums keep simple time and the guitar strums softly. “We all need a song to guide us,” Jon sings, “Or who knows what we’ll become? Play your harp and I’ll play my drum.” This is one of those timeless tunes I was talking about. It’s an amazing opener and one of the album’s best tracks. The guitar shimmers solos between verses. “In the sunsets/gold and waving/I could not bare the leaving/of the fairest of them all.”

Secondly, “(It’s Not) 1962” clearly isn’t timeless. Its feel, however, a rocker with quiet cello keeping pace beneath the high hat cymbal onslaught and the sick guitar lick. Jen Parde’s backing vocals make everything slightly eerie. “I have a dream/with a girl as tall as a tree,” Jon sings. “She dyed her hair as black as Tennessee coal.” On headphones, each instrument feels rounded out, like you’re sitting in the room with the players.

“The Cockcrow” is a fiery acoustic instrumental that, with hand drumming, a pattering of guitar, and rhythmic piano, sounds like a traditional ditty. It’s only a minute long, but it’s one of the most memorable moments on the album, as it hits and runs.

There’s only one track that falls short. “Wolves and Children” is a 3/4 ballad. Piano driven and with Jon singing low and slow. The melody is forgetful and it tries to build, but only comes off corny. Its intentions to be grandiose and sprawling are admirable, but it sounds like the song at the end of a Christmas special.

Luckily, it’s followed by “Two Crows”. “I swear sometimes/you can be so goddamn hard to please,” it goes with a slight Dylan sense of phrasing. “One said, ‘Go west,” but the other said, ‘It lies east.’” It’s an original folk ballad. Instrumentally, it sounds like a Dire Straights outtake. Drummer Tim Taotrmino does some of his most driven work here. Throughout The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak he consistently keeps things out of Medieval Times and into rock n’ roll.

The closer, “Don Quixote’s Deathbed Conversation With Sancho Panza” is exactly what it sounds like. Sung from Quixote’s perspective, When he sings, “Hallelujah, thank God I’ve still got use,” it’s both funny and heart wrenching. Midway Fair isn’t without its sense of humor, if not a dry one. “Come on, admit that it was worth it,” he begs Sancho during the bridge. It’s a really elegant song and, like “The Fairest of Them All”, is a wonderful bookend.

The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak has to grow on you because it’s dense and at times a bit corny, but usually in the best way possible. The band’s dedication to their sound is apparent on their blog, on which Jon details his writing process, recording process, and offers up full lyrics with the chords. This is a clear indication that the group’s interest in “folk” music perseveres, that they want music to be accessible, but not blindly. You have to know about Don Quixote and about Irish ballads, and if you don’t, Midway Fair is there to teach you.

Bottom line: For those that like The Incredible String Band and The Band, Midway Fair is the underdog with an album of powerful, sincere, and timeless songs.


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