Best of Both Worlds – Border Patrol Bridges American, Canadian Folk on ‘The Worst Excuses’ Album

Border Patrol’s new album, “The Worst Excuses,” poignantly and irreverently addresses a spectrum of inner hurdles and identifies novel ways to overcome them.

Border Patrol masterfully builds a lasting sonic bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

As musical architects, the American-Canadian “folk-everything” duo of Dave Toennies (guitar, vocals) and Cody Howard (banjo, vocals) creates a timeless infrastructure supported by candid lyrics, robust string instrumentation and impassioned vocals on The Worst Excuses.

Released last week, Border Patrol’s second, soul-stirring album spans eight raw tracks layered with shared stories of self-doubt and second guesses wrapped in daily struggles and victories of incremental growth, minor adjustments and hopeful moments. Each Worst Excuses track poignantly and irreverently addresses a spectrum of inner hurdles and identifies novel ways to overcome them.

“It started from my personal experience, and that’s the only way that I’ve managed to make real progress growing in recent years. I’m easily overwhelmed sometimes at the prospect of self-improvement and all the things that have to come with it,” said Toennies, who lives in Hamtramck.

“Because I tend to get real busy and involved in things and overwhelm myself, I try to focus on just the one little thing in front of me that I have to do, get that one done and then move on to the next. Once I started trying to scale that up and applying it to a much more broad growth thing, it’s been the only thing that’s really worked for me.”

Uncovering ‘The Worst Excuses’

With Toennies and Howard at the storytelling helm, Border Patrol invites listeners into a raw, recognizable head trip that crosses international waters and lands directly in the midst of relatable chaos. Their internal journey begins with “A Little Bit Better (Still Bad)” as a tight-knit fusion of folky acoustic guitar, banjo and drums quickly launches into an ongoing tale of feeling stuck personally and professionally.

Despite the track’s initial, dark mood, Toennies eloquently finds a small silver lining, “But there was nothing that could hurt me in that moment/And there was nothing for me in the life I knew/In that moment something unexpected happened/Out of nothing, something grew.” Occasionally, an optimistic, hopeful thought briefly wins over an anxious, weary mind on the toughest of days.

“I hope it’s a positive thing, and there are just a lot of running jokes that we perpetuate, too. It can be sort of depressing music, but I think that it’s depressing in the way that it’s trying to be frank and talk about things that we have a hard time talking about sometimes,” Toennies said.

“We’ve always tried to take these serious topics, and rather than having it sound super serious, maybe make it a little fun, bouncy and upbeat. I hope that it’s relatable and positive in spite of all the things that are wrong.”

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Travelers’ Rest Day 2 – The Decemberists Give Exquisite Full Performance of ‘The Crane Wife’

Jenny Conlee performs “The Crane Wife” with The Decemberists at Travelers’ Rest.

There’s something transformative about hearing a band perform an entire album live.

It’s a slightly different interpretation than what’s heard on a turntable, in the car or through a phone.

Some songs become livelier, longer and more emotive while others take on a new identity for fans.

That’s what hit me Sunday night at Travelers’ Rest.

I started photographing The Decemberists when the opening chords of “The Crane Wife 3” rang out from the stage in front of me.

While I tried to concentrate on my shots, I heard the crowd roar with contagious excitement and turned around the see a long line of fans jumping up and down at the barricade at Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Mont. In that moment, I connected with their energy and enthusiasm.

That energy and enthusiasm stemmed from the Portland, Ore., indie rock band’s special performance of their 2006 concept album, “The Crane Wife.”

A special musical treat for those of us who love The Decemberists and cherish the opportunity to hear an entire album front to back LIVE.

In “The Crane Wife,” the album’s storyline focuses on an old Japanese folktale of a poor man who finds an injured crane on his doorstep and nurses it back to health. Once the crane is released, a woman appears on the man’s doorstep, and he instantly falls for her. They quickly marry.

The woman offers to weave beautiful clothes out of silk to help earn money for the couple. At first, the man agrees to never watch his wife make clothes, but forces her weave more as their income grows and becomes oblivious to her declining health.

With a growing income, the man’s greed increases, and one fateful day, he catches a glimpse of her weaving and discovers his wife is an actual crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom. She sees him, flies away and never returns.

“This is only the second time we’ve done one of these full albums through other than ‘Hazards of Love,’ or ‘The Tain,’” said Colin Meloy, frontman for The Decemberists. “I never know whether just to not talk through it just to give you the full album experience or just to ruin the whole experience would be chattering in between, so I’m obviously doing both and neither.”

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The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie Deliver Memorable Travelers’ Rest Day 1

Colin Meloy plays with The Decemberists during the first night of Travelers’ Rest.

Travelers’ Rest may be the best festival for any indie music rock fan – period.

First off, it’s an artist-curated event with The Decemberists at the helm. Who knows how to select a festival lineup better than the artists themselves? No one, I say.

Next, it’s the perfect overall length and amount of music. With two days and start and end times of 3:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. each day, respectively, you get to see nine acts and not have to stay up all night. At times, the three- and four-day festivals are fun, but a bit long in the tooth on hot summer days.

As a bonus, you also get to see ALL the acts if you want. No overlapping artists and schedule conflicts. A music festival goer’s dream!

Thirdly, the festival location and size. Missoula, Mont., is idyllic with its big blue sky and majestic mountains in the distance, yet remote enough to not draw overwhelming crowds compared to festivals in large cities, such as Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Detroit. The Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater has the right-size feel for an outdoor venue that holds up to 5,000 people.

Finally, who wouldn’t want to spend two musically, fun-filled days with The Decemberists and their friends? For me, it’s a bounty of exquisite musicianship and artistry.

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Travelers’ Rest — The Decemberists Host 2-Day Music Festival in Missoula, Mont.

Colin Meloy performs with The Decemberists during the “Your Girl/Your Ghost” tour at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium in May. My friend Rachel provides cowbell support.

Nine years ago, I put in a copy of “The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists in my Volkswagen Beetle’s five-disc CD changer and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t quite what I expected.

After listening to the entire album, I looked over at Brian and shook my head.

He replied to me, “This isn’t our style.”

At that time, we weren’t focused on rock operas and concept albums. We were the curmudgeons of pop, classic rock and power metal.

The Decemberists’ 2009 rock opera album pushed us out of our comfort zones musically, courtesy of my brother Steve. He included the album in a care package of music to hear before attending Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.

The album’s storyline centers on a woman named Margaret who falls in love with a forest dweller named William. Throughout the album, William’s mother and a villain named the Rake bring conflict to the story.

Back then, “Hazards” was one of the first concept albums I had ever heard. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I sure do today.

I greatly appreciate the album and The Decemberists because they’re part of a special group of artists and music that inspired my initial love of concertgoing, vinyl and CD collecting, musical festival-ing (I know, it’s not a real word) and blogging.

Continue reading “Travelers’ Rest — The Decemberists Host 2-Day Music Festival in Missoula, Mont.”