String bands, very often, are far more concerned with their picking and plucking than they are with their writing and singing. That’s a mood in and of itself, it seems. But there are a few old-time groups that fit all the pieces together. With their new release, Ride Free, Spirit Family Reunion shows themselves to be one of those groups.
The set kicks off with the laid-back pomp of a tuba mixed with washboard and banjo on the call for humanity that is “One Way Ticket.” Singer/songwriter/guitarist Nick Panken makes a case for decency and dignity as more important aspects of life than the darker forces that seek to suppress them: “You may be scarred, you may be scorned, undervalued, over-shorn, overlooked, under-mourned, but you can not be removed.” It’s a simple reminder of the most basic concepts in life — kindness and generosity — that seem to elude an all-too-large portion of our society lately, particularly when it comes to immigrants and refugees.
Being a touring band, Spirit Family Reunion naturally draws some inspiration from the road and the return, as on the head bop of “Ease My Mind,” the old-time romp of “When I Get Home,” and the easy ramble of “Would You Would or Would You Won’t.”
But the album circles back to bookend itself with “Gradual Power,” another protest-ish tune anchored by the idea that each moment matters, each seed grows, and each light shines just as much as the next. It’s a horn-filled hint at hopefulness and a plucky nod to optimism. And a welcome one at that.