When the Grateful Dead wrote “My words did glow with the gold of sunshine” in their song “Ripple,” they could have been talking about The Ripples. The DC Folk-rock band, named after the Dead song, showcase their golden words and many other talents on their debut LP The First Few. The Ripples’ songs glow not only in the golden quality of their craft but also in the sunshine glow of 60s folk/rock style that pervades the album.
One of the great joys of listening to The First Few is hearing all the different ripples of music history that the group has picked up. 60s folk music makes up the bulk of the album’s sonic structure. From that base, the Ripples go on to incorporate the mellower tones of the Summer of Love and the early 70s. From the Grateful Dead (their more country/folk material) flavored “Up The Rusty” to the Simon and Garfunkel inspired “Message (Lost In The Sand),” the band demonstrate mastery of these styles. The album’s most beautiful track, “Frankie’s Song,” takes a refreshing dip into the world of James Taylor and Carole King style singer/songwriter folk music.
“Frankie” shows the Ripples’ supreme ability to construct a song. Each element in the track fits succinctly together. The smooth piano and bass provide a sturdy foundation to layer on the jazz-y guitar, airy flute and the soft and evocative vocals of Tyler Pierce and Will Heuser – no element overpowers the other. “Frankie’s” music is just as beautiful as the lyrics, which tell the story of this girl Frankie. In four-line snapshots Pierce and Heuser bring Frankie to life, and make one long to walk the “sandless seashore” with her.
With their demonstrated interest in visual art on the LP, it is fair to call the Ripples painters as much as they are musicians. The group uses a variety of instruments and sounds to paint the colorful emotions and stories they tell. The disc’s other stellar song, the Stones/Dylan-esque country rocker “Portrait,” shows the Ripples with their smocks on and brushes up. With organ contributed by Lyell Evans, the band uses the mix of light, acoustic sounds with sturdy electric ones to bolster the story of the narrator’s painting career. “Portrait” also contains one of the best lines on the LP, as Pierce and Hueser sing “Set the fireflies and purple skies in moonstone / And let me stay outside a little more” the colors dance to life in front of you, as does the romance of that night sky.
Folk and rock fans alike will adore The Ripples. There is something for everyone, whether they want to rock out or engage in tranquil introspection. Based on The First Few, I eagerly await the arrival of The Next Few.
Key Tracks: “Woke Up Once In Mexico” “Portrait” and “Frankie’s Song”
Originally Published on The Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio's Music Blog, on 11/21/13