Rayvon Browne | Companion
album review by John Powell
Keen to the antifolk movement in New York, Rayvon Browne seeks to take contemporary themes and speech and hide them in jazzy melodies. Made up of Cal Folger Day and Morgan Heringer (of both Big Tree and Hank and Pigeon fame), Rayvon Browne’s style if at worst super awkward and at best sweet. The question really becomes: Is this good music, or not so good music?
That question doesn’t arise with the opener, “Havin a Boyfriend”, on which Cal claims it’s not “the Christian thing to do.” Slow, pretty, filled in with upright bass and light piano, it’s sincere and simple folk music.
The question arises on Morgan’s first song (the two share lead vocal duties). Morgan ponders “am I a cock tease if I actually like you?” on “Cocktease”. Sparse use of guitar, bass, and keys, falls apart when the instrumentation takes a dissonant theme, like a band so high on hallucinogens that they forget moments later they were in sleek jazz mode. That dissonance is what makes New York musicians like this “unique”, stretching the listener’s patience with the odd and different.
Along those lines, Morgan and Cal both have interesting voices; the former rounded, ghostly, and demanding; the latter wispy, quite jazzy, and slurred. Coupled with bizarre instrumentation that seems to constantly be seeking groove, Rayvone Browne is straight up weird music.
That being said, the lyrics are oftentimes ironic, sarcastic, and overall quite good. “The only thing you like about my personality is my tits,” Morgan chastises on “Cat on Chest”, and later in the same song says, “If I was a man I’d be a misogynist.”
It’s only on the second half of “Where is My Boyfriend” that the dup finds a semblance of groove, with an easy drum beat and catchy melody. Other than that, the near-jazz folk complicates. “Queen” succeeds in sounding almost like a Van Morrison cover, flute included. On the closer, “The Ghost of Rick Danko”, Morgan allows her voice to just sound natural, and it’s much more effective.
And that may be the biggest criticism of Companion, and a criticism of the antifolk movement in general, which is that they try too hard to achieve dissonance, to tweak their voices, to grate or irritate. These women have lots of talent that in another setting would shine, maybe away from the folk world and trying more Norah Jones type stuff, or even Alanis Morrissette- Companion is for the niche market indeed.
Bottom line: An unglamorous take on jazz and folk, but slightly askew, so listen with several grains of salt.