Artist Spotlight: River City Extension

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Uncanny Valet

In 2011 I went to the Newport Folk Festival with a few friends. I was really excited about The Decemberists, Teegan and Sara, Gogol Bordello, and a few other bands. One of the friends I was with insisted we had to catch River City Extension’s set. The story goes that they played a small random show at a bar at SXSW that year and the crowd was so into it they wouldn’t let them leave the stage when they finished, so they grabbed their instruments and played while walking through the crowd and out into the street and everyone followed them out, singing along. One of the people in the crowd worked booking smaller bands for Newport and he tracked them down after and asked them to come up to the festival. I have no idea if that’s true and some brief Google searches didn’t bring up anything, but I’m going to choose to believe it because their live show really was that good.

Forming in New Jersey in 2007 around lead singer Joe Michelini, they fit right in with the indie folk rock style of
Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes that was just about to become incredibly popular. That being said, I’ve always felt like RCE were better songwriters and live performers than Mumford, they just never caught on in the same way. They released one EP and three albums. Their first full album,
The Unmistakable Man, is by far their best. Here’s a live version of my favorite song from that album – Something Salty, Something Sweet.

Their live shows were incredibly energetic, one account from SXSW I found described their show as “a hootenanny” and mentioned them walking out into the crowd when they performed. I saw them a year or two later in Portland and they did end the show by coming out into the crowd to sing, so maybe that’s just their thing. They seem like a bunch of fun hippies who are two steps removed from dancing around a bonfire drinking moonshine or homemade kombucha, and that’s just fine with me.

Some of the things I really appreciate about The Unmistakable Man are that the lyrics seem very personal and a lot of the songs actually have different sounds to them. For instance, compare Too Tired To Drink (which has one of my favorite opening lines ever) with one of my other favorites, Holy Cross.

The whole album feels like a story about love, loss, growing up, faith, responsibility, and coming to terms with who you are. I highly recommend giving it a listen if you’re even slightly interested (the whole thing is on both Spotify and Youtube). It’s one of the few albums that I never get sick of and never skip a single track.

I’ve been focusing on the first album because 2 and 3 each come with diminishing returns, sadly. The second album, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger, is still good and has some great songs on it, but the cohesion just isn’t there. Down, Down, Down and Ballad of Oregon are probably the best but a lot of them just start to sound like a bit of a rehash. The third album, Deliverance, I’ve only listened to a few times but I’ve just never connected with it. The style is different and the band touted it as a step forward but the sales were abysmal and sadly the band broke up last year. Here’s a pretty good write-up of their farewell show:…

I’m glad I got to see them live twice when they were in their prime. The live shows were just plain fun. Jubilant,
energetic, homey, and with a found family feeling that’s hard to capture outside of a Joss Whedon TV show, it’s a shame they won’t be performing as a full group anymore.

In researching this I did discover that Michelini has started a new project under the somewhat ostentatious name American Trappist. He recently put out his first music video and it’s definitely interesting (I get a distinct Warren Zevon vibe from it, though I like the song more than the video), I think he’s going to be someone worth following.

Thanks for reading!