Artist: The River Empires
Album: The River Empires – Epilogue
In Brief: An incredibly complex concept album that is long, meandering, and not the most accessible thing even for Falling Up fans, but ultimately a very creative and rewarding listen.
Falling Up was one of those groups that I always thought had a bit of a misaimed fandom. Blame it on them being in the right time and place to score some goodwill with the gatekeepers at Christian radio back in 2004, when their childhood buddies in Kutless were being touted as a good holy alternative to the likes of Incubus and Linkin Park. Beyond the use of power chords and a few brief rap breaks on their debut Crashings, Falling Up didn’t really have that much in common with any of those bands (unless one considered the use of popular modern rock sounds as a starting point for experimentation as a similarity to Incubus, I guess). Technically speaking, the group came up with more inventive riffs and ways to mish-mash genres than Kutless could have ever dreamed, and the lyrics – while generally clear about the band’s Christian faith – generally took the less-traveled motor-mouth route to make their point. There was more going on upstairs than you’d generally assume for the average band appealing to the youth group set, and after stumbling a bit on their sophomore album Dawn Escapes and losing a few members to other projects, Falling Up seemed to want to make the transition to being a fully grown-up, thinking man’s Christian rock band.
2007’s Captiva saw a fairly drastic overhaul of their sound, shifting the focus to synthesizers and other spacey elements, and leaving just enough clarity to avoid burning their bridges with Christian radio, but also turning out some fairly esoteric lyrics on deep album cuts. The fan response to this was mixed at best, and the group responded by taking us even deeper down the rabbit hole with the concept album Fangs! in 2009. By this point, I was convinced that nobody truly paid attention to Falling Up beyond listening for catchy riffs and comforting stock phrases. If a more popular Christian band had turned out an album fully dedicated to a bizarre science-fiction allegory about goddesses and poisoned arrows and archaic names for planets, there would probably be accusations that “This isn’t a Christian band any more” and general controversy of that nature. When Falling Up did it, it seemed that hardly anyone noticed. Fangs! turned out to be my favorite album by the group just because of how fantastically weird and immersive it was. It also turned out to be the group’s last effort, as an abrupt breakup announcement hit Facebook and other fan sites in January 2010. Farewell, Falling Up. The Christian music industry never really knew how to market you, I guess.
For lead singer Jessy Ribordy, however, this breakup was far from career-ending. The occasional hint of a side project in the works had been floating around ever since the release of Fangs!, and there was precious little news on what exactly this thing called The River Empires was supposed to be all about. I assumed it was some sort of vanity project, just Jessy and a few buds turning out the kind of songs that wouldn’t have fit Falling Up’s repertoire. A few snippets of sound eventually showed up, revealing the group to be fascinated with folk and classical instrumentation, hinting at some sort of a fantasy storyline lurking beneath their compositions. The end of Falling Up apparently gave Jessy some time to kick it into high gear, with The River Empires’ first effort, a monolithic two-disc set awkwardly titled The River Empires – Epilogue, hitting the Internet a mere three months after the breakup. Despite my cautious curiosity, I figured that the going rate of $10 for a whopping 29 tracks on iTunes would likely be worth my while, so I downloaded it and proceeded to immerse myself in what was intended to be the soundtrack to the epilogue to a series of films. Yeah, let that one sink in for a few minutes. You should be getting a clue pretty early on that this is gonna make no sense.
Apparently, the highly progressive, compositional tendencies put on display here weren’t just Jessy Ribordy’s brainchild. Casey Crescenzo, lead singer for The Dear Hunter, seems to be all about experimental rock albums divided up into acts and movements, and he was at the producer’s helm for Fangs!, which is apparently when he and Jessy hit it off. The two set about forming this rag-tag indie folk ensemble, foregoing heavy guitar rock and just about anything synthesized in favor of the kinds of instruments you’d hear in symphonies and on bluegrass records. Every now and then, the rockier side comes out – even an electric guitar if you listen carefully! – and the group lets loose in a spirited, percussive jam session. But for most of the album, the colors are delicate and subdued, with piano and acoustic guitar serving as the backbone while a truly impressive supporting cast of bizarre instruments weaves its way in and out. Epilogue is a story that unravels slowly from its long, sweeping introduction to its highest peak of sonic intensity somewhere near the center of the album – assuming the story is even being told in a linear fashion would probably not be giving these guys enough credit. And if you thought the word salad lyrics on some of Falling Up’s latter-day efforts were insane, then hoo boy, you’re gonna get a heavy dose of surreality on these two discs. Here, it’s more like you’ve got several different word salads, and they tell you one is a tuna salad, and one is a cobb salad, and one is a Caesar salad, but there’s actually no tuna to be found in the tuna salad ’cause it’s in the cobb salad, while the eggs are in the Caesar salad, and you can’t even find the avocado until you open up the box of croutons. You will hear something that catches your ear, grab hold of a snippet of the oddball lyrics, and realize you’ve got the title of a completely different song. Losing one’s place against the many movements and somewhat superfluous interludes (yeah, they made this record longer than it really needs to be) is almost mandatory. I admire the scope of it. I expect that it’s not something that’s meant to be understood until we see the film they’re working on or get some other piece of this apparently gargantuan soundtrack. Which reminds me, are they really planning to finish that or are they gonna pull a Sufjan Stevens on us? It may not matter. I still love Sufjan despite his apparent ADD, and I’m hearing sounds and ideas here that remind me of the reasons I fell in love with Sufjan’s music. Elsewhere, I’m reminded of Nickel Creek in their latter days, when the song structures and the ways they used the guitar, mandolin and fiddle started to demonstrate more out-of-the-box thinking.
All told, The River Empires have come up with one of the most intriguing records of 2010. It’s so obscure that it’s bound to go completely unnoticed by all but the most attentive fans of the groups that Jessy and Casey are better known for. But in that obscurity, they’ve found boundless freedom of the kind that a record label would have never afforded them. That makes their strange new world a delight to visit again and again, even if I think the storybook could have used an editor to keep them from going off on a few tangents here and there.
1. The River Empires Theme I
This quiet little piano melody is actually the main motif of the album. You will hear this melody many times throughout the album, though disguised against the backdrop of so many different songs that you won’t spot every occurrence right way. It’s like a musical Where’s Waldo?
2. Overture in Thales Summer
The main theme leads right into the first full song, which is mainly piano and Jessy Ribordy’s vocals, with the rest of the band chiming in to create an almost angelic, choral effect on the chorus. It’s one of the slowest, sparsest numbers on the album, and it runs a bit long at five and a half minutes, but it’s interesting for coming as close to establishing the story as any lyric you’re likely to find on this album. “Old Earth, raise your crown!” they slowly, mournfully cry. “New birth, summer’s ail!” Yeah, I have no idea, either.
3. Our Neighbor, the Earth
Even longer and even slower is this somewhat bloated piece, running past the seven minute mark as it, too, slowly unfolds over a simple hint of an outline of a piano melody. (It is quite bizarre to hear Jessy’s voice in this new context when I’m so used to Falling Up’s dense music and motor-mouth antics.) It must take a good minute just for the long fade-in to reach the first chord! To judge it based on this glacial beginning is to miss the point, though, as the band begins to weave complexity into it as it goes, with a bit of glockenspiel, harp, vibraphone, a string section, and Josh Shroy‘s intricate drumming, which starts to feel like the light tapping of rain on a metal roof. It’s busy, and yet it’s calming. The lyrics are quite ethereal as well, following in the footsteps of Falling Up’s Fangs! album in that they look like snippets from a long-lost book of medieval poetry written in some parallel world’s version of Olde English. What initially make me think “Get on with it!” turns out to be quite enrapturing by the time it ends, with an Asian-sounding string instrument plucking out the melody one last time.
4. The Coventry
More light but intricate drumming and the near-constant ringing of a glockenspiel characterize this song, which threatens to push the album into more upbeat territory but just sort of teases us, holding back the group’s full energy as they use the strings and piano chords to create subtle but tense drama. The chorus is a beautiful moment where, amidst the angelic group vocals, backup singer/multi-instrumentalist Sharaya MacDonald emerges, her lovely voice adding a touch of innocence to a song that is more haunting under the surface than you’d give it credit for if you listened superficially. Take these lines from the second verse: “Hanging songbirds in the fans/In the garden she was found/They can sing the trembling tune as they tear her husbands flesh/Now the pulsing starts it’s call/Every mariner will pause/Under mighty landscapes bellowing will pixelate your trust.” Well, that’s kind of creepy, eh?
5. Galloping Through Day Blooms
A rather pointless interlude in which Sharaya’s voice can be heard very faintly in the background, giving a few pointers on the songwriting/storytelling process. The line between artistry and pretension is usually crossed when a band thinks that studio chatter actually helps the flow of an album. On the upside, this only lasts about 15 seconds. (Which begs thje question of why I spent more than 15 seconds griping about it.)
6. The Harbourland
From the swirl of sound at the start of this track, you’d think they were leading into something epic. But the album remains in low gear for a few more tracks – and don’t get me wrong, all of these slower songs are beautiful on their own, but stacking them all together can cause a bit of listener fatigue early in the album. We’re sort of used to the ballads in 6/8 that scale back to just Jessy, a piano and maybe some light percussion at this point, so this is one of those tracks that I tend to skip over because it feels more “transitional” than a song unto itself. Nevertheless, it gets quite pretty toward the end when the piano and backing vocals take a dramatic turn, and then there’s this lovely cello part that repeats a melodic refrain to finish it off. The instrumental variety helps to keep a lot of these songs interesting.
7. From Faye to Astral
Another interlude shows up here, but this time it’s an instrumental one instead of just talking (thankfully). It’s a slow waltz of plucked strings and melancholy horns, later bringing in accordion to give it a gypsy/circus sort of effect. On any other album, comparing the music to the sound of a circus would be silly, but here, I’m making that reference quite intentionally. At the end there’s this tense flute trill that leads me to expect them to break out into the Mission Impossible theme. They don’t do that, but they do come crashing headlong into…
8. A Toast to the Snake King
At last – an actual up-tempo song! This is where the bluegrass influence finally begins to rear its head, and while that might be anathema to the riff-rock aficionados who followed Falling Up’s earlier material, it’s heaven to my ears, busting forth with an acoustic rhythm that feels much like a chugging locomotive, while the banjo’s a-pluckin’ and the fiddler’s a-fiddlin’. it’s just plain fun. Hell of a solid melody, too. If the instrumental refrain that follows the chorus doesn’t sound familiar, listen to track one again and you’ll start to understand this group’s penchant for hiding variations on a theme in unexpected places. The lyrics – which I should know better than to even try and decipher – are awash with mystery and dread, describing a frightening trip into some sort of nightmare world full of snakes and other deceptive creatures. It could be an allegory for Satan, or it could be some other insidious villian that the band made up out of the blue, for all I know. But Jessy draws attention to the snake’s fangs at some point. This makes me wonder if he’s using The River Empires as a stealth attempt to finish the story that Falling Up’s last album was supposed to be the first segment of. Putting aside the myriad of bunny trails I could go down trying to interpret this, it’s a freakin’ awesome song.
9. The First Message
A truly bizarre interlude follows here, with a man ranting in either Spanish or Italian, a baby crying in the background, and the instruments getting whipped up into a brief, but fun little jam session that we’ll hear the full version of later in the album. The rant goes on a little longer than it needs to. I’m sure it probably means something for those who would bother to translate it.
10. Catacombs and Orchards
This track is quite chilling, but then, if you came expecting a song with the word “Catacombs” in its title to be even remotely happy, there’s something seriously wrong with you. It’s a slow moody piece that uses Casey’s pedal steel for killer effect – and I mean that quite literally, as Jessy describes the dirty little secret of a mass grave just beneath the surface of a lovely garden. The imagery here is superb – even though Jessy’s vocabulary is stretched to ridiculous limits on this album, there’s just enough clarity shining through in a few lines, such as this gem that caps off the second verse: “For lead us you may down six feet/We see empirical graves with empirical clocks.” That, to me, indicates a cold, unfeeling approach toward death, a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma of mass genocide. What caused it, though? Little glimpses of a storyline throughout the album lead me to wonder if it’s some sort of society from a parallel world, looking over the remains of our Earth after humanity destroyed itself. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. You can completely throw the lyrics out if you want, and the distant whine of the strings, the slow drone of the piano, and that gun-slinging menace of that pedal steel will still send shivers up your spine.
11. Three Tigers
WOW. There’s no better word to describe this percussive jam track than just, WOW. It keeps the chilling mood – look no further than by Jessy’s very first words: “Woman, you’re gonna drown, it’s… too late.” Yikes. There’s some serious retribution happening here, apparently. But it’s also an intoxicating blend of sounds, from the funky emphasis of the cymbal-heavy percussion, the piano and the organ, to the backwoods mood of the banjo and mandolin, to the twisted Gospel inflections of the SWEET vocal breakdown in the song’s bridge. Imagine grizzled old prospectors singing along with a big, purple, robed choir, and you’ll sort of get the effect. The exchange between Jessy and the backup singers during the chorus gives us some sort of idea of what’s going on here: “Swing to sleep/The heir rose/To send us in/Drink up for/Bombs of blue/’Cause the gypsies/Welcome you.” See? I wasn’t just making up that gypsy stuff.
12. Stag Hollow Fair
I also wasn’t making up the circus stuff. This interlude is basically a minute’s worth of a circus organ tooting along cheerfully, then suddenly cut off and left hanging on the tense notes of trembling strings.
13. Lull of Celeste
One of the album’s more peaceful tracks is built around hushed vocals and a classical guitar – it’s one of the quietest and yet most skillful performances on the album. Jessy seems to be probing the boundary between dreams and real life with these lyrics, as if the woman who “drowned” might make up on the other side, or as if he might wake up and realize he didn’t actually drown her. Thanks to the solemn backing vocals and some other instruments bleeding in midway through, it starts to melt into cacophony, but reins itself in at the end.
14. From Outside the Cellar
Another quiet acoustic track follows, the guitar accompanied by a gentle fiddle and a little bit of banjo plucking this time. Jessy seems to be addressing a lover who is terminally ill, but he also makes reference to a poisoned fang sinking itself into her heel, implying that the real disease could be some sort of sin or other folly. These recurring ideas have popped up enough times now that I’m seriously starting to wonder how I missed the obvious connecting threads before. The fact that some of these songs are short and quiet enough to feel like mere interludes as they pass me by might have something to do with it. If you’ll pardon the pun, pacing is this album’s Achilles Heel.
15. Vcias in the Pines
One of the album’s more irritating interludes features… the sound of metal scraping on guitar strings. Yeah, something like that. A semi-interesting vocal melody rises up out of it (another little bit of foreshadowing), but most of what’s musical here is lost in the faint hum of white noise.
16. A Dimmer Lux
This band pretty much always delivers when they turn the tempo up. Here, they use the classic combo of acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle to create a bluegrass reflection of what might otherwise be a modern rock song… Josh Shroy seems to attack it as if it were one, but otherwise, this one’s extremely reminiscent of one Nickel Creek. (The vocal hand-off from Jessy to Sharaya in the bridge reminds me a great deal of a Chris Thile-penned song where he’d let Sara Watkins take over just to change things up.) There’s a lot of nautical imagery here, and the song appears to be told from the point of view of a detective on the search for a murderer. It’s another brilliantly performed track that takes the band’s bluegrass leanings and gives them just enough of an experimental twist (especially with the time signature in this case) to make it the band’s own unique sound. For what it’s worth, “Lux” is a unit measuring illumination.
One last short, slow instrumental leads us out – listen carefully and you’ll notice it’s actually a reprisal of the melody from “A Toast to the Snake King”, which proceeds to quote a quote with its own estimation of “The River Empires Theme” that was tacked onto that song. This is where Disc One ends, and quite frankly, I need a freakin’ break. See you on the flipside, boys and girls!
18. Witches Blossom
…And we’re back! Disc Two (which is thankfully shorter than disc one at only twelve tracks) starts with what I like to call “The Hoedown” – the album’s most consistent stretch of upbeat, bluegrassy tunes. First up is this familiar sounding little melody (aha, now “The First Message” makes sense… sort of), with the fiddle weaving all over it and the banjo more or less driving the beat. There’s even an electric guitar solo near the end (with sort of a country/Western bent to it… sorry to disappoint you rockers.) Fun stuff. The lyrics look like they’re about a bunch of people turning out to witness the execution of the woman who was mentioned as being drowned back on the first disc. So I guess this is their version of burning someone at the stake? Creepy. One of my favorite moments here is when the melody comes to this plateau during the bridge… it has a very different character than the “rambling” of the rest of the song, and this too seems to be a call forward to another song later in the album. (That familiar motif pops up again, too. You know the one.)
19. The Curse of Maybel Cains
The band’s really firing on all cylinders here, with a driving beat (including hand claps!) and a descending chord progression played on the mandolin, giving the song a mad, relentless sort of feel. There’s a lot packed into the lyrics here, as the story is told of a woman whose house seems to literally come caving in on her family, and she must make the difficult choice of whether to save her husband or her baby. It gets more dense and chaotic as the song goes, to the point where each band member, one by one, seems to start peeling off and playing whatever the hell they feel like as the song’s bridge grows more and more dissonant, only barely hanging on to the rhythm (and what’s that worming its way out of the background? Oh hi, River Empires Theme! We keep bumping into each other!) What’s great about this is that just before it dissolves into 100% chaotic noise, the band pulls it back together for the final refrain, as if suddenly snapping out of their disoriented haze.
The banjo and mandolin play a spirited little interlude here, riffing on “A Toast to the Snake King” once again, but adding some claps and stomps to make it feel like some sort of a jig. They must have kept the take despite somebody screwing up, because I can swear I hear a faint “Oh, sh*t!” in the background at one point. It could be my imagination.
21. The Motorbike
It seems weird at this point for the band to scale back to a simple folk tune, with fairly basic low-key acoustic strumming and not a whole lot else going on except for some subtle bells and Saraya’s soothing background vocals behind Jessy. This one’s comparatively minimal on the lyrics, as if starting to put together fragments of a young man’s memory of his mother, but then wandering off into nothingness as the second half of the tune is merely hummed. (Ah, but notice what they’re humming? Egad, they’re working the theme-and-variation to death at this point.)
22. The Pelican
This one might be even more pointless than “Vcias in the Pines”. Maybe not as annoying, but full of empty space as a stringed instrument plucks about and a flute or piccolo randomly toots around. There’s no real rhythm to it, though there’s probably something hidden in her that I’m supposed to recognized. It just brings the album to a screeching halt in between two songs that are already pretty mellow.
23. The Backyard in Sparkles
Though this tune retains a light touch, its title is apt as the piano plays a “sparkly” melody, all full of triplets, which is joined later by the glockenspiel and the accordion – there’s seemingly no limit to the chamber music ensembles this band can put together for each song. This one’s got some intriguing lyrics, which I think are describing a machine that a woman built to take her far into outer space. Jessy sings from the point of view of a man who isn’t ready to go, who curses “the marching of clocks” and the way that “Lovely seconds with her drift from me.” This may be the same woman who was being slowly ravaged by disease in “From Outside the Cellar”. I like how these little vignettes make it possible to piece parts of a story together, even though I’m probably getting it completely wrong.
24. Land of Canoes
I don’t mind the interludes so much when they’re fun little jam sessions, apparent snapshots of the band trying to work out bits of songs that we’ve heard the complete versions of elsewhere. This one features the piano and mandolin riffing on “Three Tigers” for a bit. It unfortunately has another one of those “Leave the tape rolling” moments where one of the guys is giving some sort of barely audible advice about what to do with the narrative. Just when you turn it up to hear what’s being said, he shouts, “ARE YOU THERE???” Sheesh.
25. Theon, the Fox
Any risk of late-album boredom is nicely averted by this bouncy little track, brimming with energy as a xylophone keeps time and a peppy horn section (almost sounding like they borrowed it from Calexico) punching up the chorus. Remember the tigers that weren’t actually mentioned in “Three Tigers”? (I guess that’s kind of a stupid question. If they weren’t mentioned, why would you remember them?) This song’s chorus gives the other song’s title some context: “Oh, and you said, ‘There’s buried gold/And the tigers wait for us!’/Now the summer grass will move here/As they lick their chops for blood.” There’s also mention of a moon birthing a silver Earth, which I find to be a fascinating image for some reason. The moon’s neighbor is the Earth, right? I may not understand the story, but at least the stuff they’re naming these songs after is starting to make some sense.
26. An Elliptic Figure From Borelli
I’m getting a bit of a Sufjan Stevens vibe from this instrumental piece. Maybe it’s because Sufjan did one about Pluto and its discoverer, while Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was a physicist who studied the orbits of planets. (I had to hit up Wikipedia. Sufjan makes me do that all the time.) The music is appropriately spacy, with the glockenspiel repeating an ominous melody just like clockwork while wobbly vocals wander about, rising up into the atmosphere like… oh wait, we’ve heard that before. (“Vcias in the Pines”, to be exact. It still doesn’t justify the noise.) This runs for about two minutes and then leaves us with roughly thirty seconds of silence, as if to indicate that the main portion of the story is over and we’re reaching the epilogue. (Wait, isn’t this entire album an epilogue? I am so confused…)
27. The Marching of the Clocks
And what a fantastic epilogue it is! The album hits its emotional climax in a fish-out-of-water, experimental rock sort of moment as the squalling of electric guitars and the rolling of drums leads us into this keyboard-driven track with an absolutely sublime chorus. I don’t know how they did it, but they picked one of the most beautiful, bittersweet melodies for that chorus, and Jessy and the guys milk it for all its worth. Perhaps part of the appeal is because I could swear it sounds familiar, like something out of a lost memory, and then I realize it was these guys who subtly implanted it there, in snippets of other songs strewn throughout the album. Here, birth and death meet in a cataclysmic, inevitable moment that is at once dreaded and beautiful. There’s nothing scary about the sound of the song, but they somehow managed to capture that feeling of standing on the edge of a beautiful abyss, not knowing what’s beyond it. As the final chorus fades back into the lonely piano melody that takes us home, it’s as otherworldy a moment as the starry synths that closed out the final track on Falling Up’s Captiva.
28. The Woods of Northland
But this isn’t quite the end. Bird chirps and general forest ambiance fade in as the last piano chord fades out, and as we wander through the trees, the melody of “A Dimmer Lux” can be heard in the distance.
29. The River Empires Theme II
Like many good concept albums, we end up right where we started, only this time with more fanfare. That familiar theme that’s haunted us for the last hour and a half comes back into the foreground here, played in a different key and slightly faster, with crashing gongs and sudden hits from the string and horn sections, among other dramatic flourishes. I like to imagine a traveling circus doing daring trapeze stunts to this music. I’m not really sure what this mystical carnival has to do with the birth of a new planet and the dying of an old one, or with witches, tigers, gypsies, foxes, snakes, and what have you, but it’s still a fitting way to end this sprawling, complex album.
WHEW. These two discs sure took a lot of work to analyze, and I’m pretty sure I must have only scratched the surface. Despite the early pacing problems and some aggravating moments where an on-the-fly experiment seems to jolt me out of the mystical realm that the band worked so hard to create, I still find it to be a thrilling listen when taken as a whole. It’s not perfect, but it’s highly original, since I can’t think of very many artists out there blending bluegrass, folk, and classical influences into their own weird interpretation of progressive rock, and hoping to somehow make a living doing it. For all I know, maybe these folks have dayjobs, but given that recent Facebook updates say they’re working on the film that accompanies this sprawling musical work, as well as another full-length album, let’s just say that I have my doubts about whether they have time to sleep, let alone punch a clock somewhere. Stranger things have happened, I guess. At least I won’t have to wait too long to see what this prolific group does next.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
The River Empires Theme I $.50
Overture in Thales Summer $1
Our Neighbor, the Earth $1
The Coventry $1
Galloping Through Day Blooms $0
The Harbourland $1
From Faye to Astral $.50
A Toast to the Snake King $1.50
The First Message $0
Catacombs and Orchards $1.50
Three Tigers $2
Stag Hollow Fair $.50
Lull of Celeste $1
From Outside the Cellar $.50
Vcias in the Pines $0
A Dimmer Lux $1.50
Witches Blossom $1.50
The Curse of Maybel Cains $2
The Motorbike $.50
The Pelican -$.50
The Backyard in Sparkles $1
Land of Canoes $.50
Theon, the Fox $1.50
An Elliptic Figure From Borelli $1
The Marching of the Clocks $2
The Woods of Northland $.50
The River Empires Theme II $1
Jessy Ribordy: Lead vocals, piano, mandolin, acoustic guitar, rhodes, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, bowed crotales, waterphone, accordion, melodica, anvil, chimes and bells, choral and symphonic arrangements
Josh Shroy: Drums, percussion, artillery shells, timpani, classical guitar, acoustic guitar, French and German cymbals, chimes, backing vocals
Casey Crescenzo: Pedal steel, slide guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, piano, Rhodes, organ, percussion, electric bass, chimes, choral and symphonic arrangements
Erik Roos: Banjo, backing vocals, tambourine, homemade percussion
Sharaya McDonald: Backing vocals, bells, glockenspiel, melodica, tambourine