By: Jonathan Fischer for F.A.Z. (Daily Paper in Germany) January, 27, 2011 ; circ.416.000
Walt Whitman for the city slicker’s ears: the folk duo The Pleasants save the love of nature in our present day – powerful music that sounds not only of elves and fairies.
Walt Whitman’s 1855 Preface to “Leaves of Grass” calling to “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, and give alms to every one that asks” was followed by the folk duo The Pleasants one and a half Centuries later with a similar dream. As promised, Amanda Rogers and Mike Matta withdraw from the plastic-civilization to satisfy their happiness in singing about the quiet strength of nature. Forests and Fields is the name of their debut. Forests and fields are places of self-realization.
On the cover of the rough, brown,”eco-friendly” album packaging, you can see drawings of field plowing, crop varieties, and country people sleeping under trees. A backward-looking fantasy of two avowed vegans, animal rights activists, and late-hippies, you might think. But after the first few bars you are caught with the heart and brains of their mythology. Myths, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, allowed the past to speak in the present. And here is the impression one actually hears: the bucolic idyll of the mountains of Vermont, where the two kindred musicians have recorded the album, the sound of the ahistorical nature. Or is it just a longing for simpler times? An invocation of the same American myth, the beautiful harmony of bluegrass singing like that of the Stanley Brothers, animating that resonate-in-the-head voice of the young Neil Young in the sixties, and that of Bob Dylan with The Band rehearsed (and later as “Basement Tapes” published), “Mountain Music” their world-embracing melancholy?
The dominant feature of The Pleasants is the eerily beautiful interplay of the voices of Rogers and Matta. Even painful lines like “It was a wounded man that wounded me” get through the harmony of their choral singing something conciliatory: Yes, life is precious. And if one goes to the fiery core of The Pleasants, then one will also complete this appreciation with a pantheistic nature. All songs of the duo were recreated live. Whoever was allowed to attend a framed-by-wildflowers-appearance of this duo, has seen the intimacy with which Matta and Rogers’ playing vocal lines seem to share from the off harmonies and the sparing accents of piano and acoustic guitar in a world of log cabins and campfire drift, a world that is still performed in each hand with a corresponding song on the lips. Even if occasionally tambourines, restrained drums, or violins come into play, the music exudes an overwhelming simplicity and tenderness. Mike Matta submits insistent, plucked guitar riffs to open wide spaces, while Amanda Rogers at the piano somewhere between blues, gospel, and Tin Pan Alley-reminiscent of the thirties and forties, a rhythmic sediment laid down for a singing voice, the comparisons challenged with Tori Amos and Kate Bush. But the singing elf or fairy is only one of her sides. On the other side is the self-confident tone of a woman who embodies strength and gentleness without contradiction. In the live performances of The Pleasants is Amanda Rogers’ vocal presence in the center. Even their humming is a blessing.
The debut album Here And Nowhere was well suited to the pale, blonde nature girl who sang in garage rock fashion, the confused emotions of a teenager, her next album she recorded with her friend, Grant Capes. This time though, she let her classical music background shine through and created the same melodies and dense atmospheres that are now magnified on the tracks of Forests and Fields: Organic, Lo-Fi and always the dark sacredness of everyday life. As tagged by a critic: Ambient-Folk.
“I wanted it to be enchanted as it may sound, “Amanda Rogers explains, “So that the listener feels the music was intended for his ears alone.” Surprisingly, they found an audience far beyond traditional folk circles. Since her album Daily News, Amanda Rogers was primarily known alongside, Emo, hardcore, and punk bands in North America and Europe. As part of the rock combo Jupiter Sunrise she spent two years exclusively on the road in a bio-fuel-driven RV. A drifter without residence and money: Amanda Rogers in 2008, while in California and with the help of musicians from the world of Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, and Better Than Ezra, attained up until now, her most sophisticated album, Heartwood. It goes without saying, for the singer, her music is always only part of an alternative life plan: She founded the label D.I.T. Records (Do It Together) to market the works of like-minded colleagues on their own terms, was at the origin of the global artist collective The Notebook Collective, and began to design her own clothing brand called “RMH” (Recycle My Heart) for ecologically sustainable fashion.
Rogers may not yet call herself a hippie. But Rather someone who “takes the necessary time to sing [her] stories, and not just to live.” Like she says in the song “For All We Know”: “My hands are warm in yours / So there’s no reason for wanting more / We’re never poor.” Even if this sounds sometimes too thickly applied to innocence – the quintessential American desire for the primitive intensity of nature has already inspired Whitman and later inspired many of the best folk-and country songs. The Pleasants encompass with Forests And Fields, the mythology of America, the forest-goers, the nature lovers, and the rebels reclaiming the present, while wrapping themselves in the songs they create like a warm patchwork quilt.