The Armoires: “Zibaldone” & “Side Three”

In the late Sixties, female vocalists such as Signe Anderson and Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), Linda Baker LaFlamme and Pattie Santos (It’s A Beautiful Day), Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) and Annie Halsam (Renaissance) set the template for an instantly identifiable sub-genre of rock music.

You can call it “Folk Rock” if you’d like, but labels tend to fence artists in, rather than allowing them to be the “free range” critters that truly creative beings were born to be. There was a “sound,” which offered traditional songwriting and vocals with psychedelic overtones, but think of it as more of a calling card than a commitment set in stone. There really wasn’t a “rule book” in the Sixties, because elements from any genre could be incorporated at a moment’s notice…case in point, Jerry Garcia’s penchant for folding bluegrass grace notes into the Grateful Dead’s electric tsunami.

On that note, enter The Armoires. If any of the acts listed above stir fond memories of simpler and more tranquil times, you’ve just found your new favorite band.

Zibaldone is the band’s latest album, which was preceded by its companion EP, Side Three. The CD version of Side Three includes two hidden tracks, bringing the total experience of both releases to 18 tracks and a playing time of 66 minutes. Side Three features a cover version of “The Laws Have Changed” by The New Pornographers, cited as a major influence for the band. You can hear sound samples for both releases by clicking the links provided above.

Vocalist Christina Bulbenko and Guitarist / Vocalist Rex Broome are the main architects of the band’s sound. They are also the founders of Big Stir Records, which currently has a roster of 15 artists, with even more available via their weekly Big Stir Digital Singles. There’s also a sister label, the Detroit-based Futureman Records.

Rex’s daughter Miranda Broome serves as touring bassist, while Christina’s daughter Larysa Bulbenko is the band’s violist. Veteran members Clifford Ulrich (bass) and Derek “Kenny’s Plumbing” Hannah (drums) round out The Armoires’ lineup. Both Zibaldone and Side Three are produced by Steven Wilson, frontman for Plasticsoul and a fellow label-mate, with one track produced by Spygenius frontman Peter Watts, also a Big Stir Records artist. Artwork for both releases comes via Champniss of London, the primary creative force behind the popular Big Stir Magazine.

Zibaldone opens on a jaunty, upbeat note with “Appalachukrainia.” The fun continues with “Pushing Forty,” adding a punky energy and a twist on The Who’s “My Generation”…“Hope I live before I get old.”

“McCadden” is one of the better examples of the band’s ability to craft “Contemporary Period Pieces”…songs that feel like you knew them decades ago, but are visiting you for the first time right now.

“The Romantic Dream Appears Before Us,” clocking in at 4:47, is one of the band’s longer pieces, allowing them to stretch out musically. “Suddenly Succulents” brings the Fairport connection front-and-center.

The band’s penchant for a clever turn of the lyrical phrase is evident on “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?,” while “Satellite Business” is another psychedelic sunrise gem, with emphasis on the tight harmony vocals.

“Alesandra 619” is a stellar blending of twangy electric guitars and viola. It stands as proof that the viola plays a key role in the band, rather than being a novelty addition. This track, to my ears, best represents the overall vibe of the band. Everything works together with precision and heart.

The album’s closer, “When We Were in England (And You Were Dead),” is truly compelling, slowly unfolding and adding layers as it swells in intensity.

Side Three opens with “Some Kinda Handbook (The Senility Prayer),” another fine example of the band’s delight in crafting lyrics rich with irony and wordplay.

“Anemone!” boasts a full, rich sound which makes full use of 12-string guitar, viola, and harmony vocals.

“The Laws Have Changed,” the aforementioned New Pornographers cover. is tight and tuneful. It’s one of those tracks where the band’s love of the sound they have forged comes shining through.

The closing track on the CD version of Side Three, “Not A Good Man,” showcases another legendary band that clearly served as a major influence, Los Angeles’ own X, specifically the vocal exchanges between John Doe and Exene Cervenka. The track crackles with punky energy and exuberance, and is reason enough to go for the CD version. It’s a must-have song.

Follow the ongoing adventures of The Armoires on their Website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.