An indie-folk band with a bluegrass bent, The New Thoreaus provide a “modern spin on old-timey folk and bluegrass,” according to the East Bay Express. “The New Thoreaus are one of the few bands that can appeal to a crowd full of traditionalists AND folks who like a little something different,” says Mike Bond of Mutiny Radio’s The Bottleneck Cafe Radio Show. “Think Tom Waits meets NOLA’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band.”
The New Thoreaus’ name pays homage to the group’s literary and philosophical interests, referencing American naturalist writer, Henry David Thoreau. Formed originally in 2007 as a group of Special Education teachers in Oakland, banging out stress on drums and dulcimer, The New Thoreaus have maintained their original style while broadening their appeal through more traditional bluegrass and jazz instruments. “The Cello, upright bass, and trumpet lend the songs a baroque feel that’s similar to Beirut, while the harmonica and finger-picked banjo keep it firmly in Americana…When they blend in rich vocal harmonies, it’s akin to an alt-country Broken Social Scene.” (EBX) The New Thoreaus influences range from The Decemberists, Bon Iver, and Biz Markee to Gillian Welch, The Band, and The Grateful Dead. The New Thoreaus’ range of styles and singers lends their music a hard to define quality that defies easy classification.
The New Thoreaus’ sophomore album, Sinners on the Take (2014), showcases their unique style and thought-provoking lyrics. The songs on this album define the groups’ secular gospel theme. The title track is a protest song about the misuse of religious values towards political ends by conservative Americans. The bluegrass-inspired, male/female duet, Weight of the Matter, is an unrequited love song featuring Tim Kim on violin. A waltz, Pilgrims is advice to a bride-to-be just before immigrating to America. And Watchdogs is the only song on the EP featuring a drum and dobro, and showcases The New Thoreaus’ dynamic vocal harmonies and stylistic range.
Their debut album, Neon Americana (2013), is an ode to the juxtapositions prominent in modern America. Both in the instrumentation, with traditional bluegrass and jazz instruments played in an unorthodox fashion, and in lyrics such as these in the title track, borrowed from a Christian billboard: “Are they making a monkey out of you? Or are you just acting the fool?” The songs on this album range from dark and sultry tales of greed and capitalism gone awry, to murder ballads, dreamy lullabies, and gospel inspired tunes.