Bombadil take their name from a character in J.R.R. Tolkiens The Fellowship of the Ring, and their songs certainly sound like they come from Middle Earth. Their folk-pop vocals often resemble The Decemberists Colin Meloy, whose band is touring behind an album (we love) that tells a fairy tale of sorts. Other times the ghost of Keith Moons Uncle Ernie can be heard over piano and acoustic guitar. Certain songs even have the faux-British accent of Robert Pollard.
But dig deeper. Listen. Beneath their musical veneer is a band of four young men from North Carolina telling tales and singing songs rooted firmly in todays landscapes. There are no songs of rakes or pretty whistles failing to wrestle the thistles undone. In their place are songs featuring the postman not making your big day any better (Sad Birthday), lovers insisting they are not a coupon for cheap love (Cold Runway), partying to Aphex Twin (Matthew), and a bear named Oto who played by the thicket (Oto the Bear). Okay, so there are some traces of fantastical situations in Bombadils upcoming album, Tarpits and Canyonlands, due out on July 7th.
The band consists of four multi-instrumentalists, Daniel Michalak (vocals, bass guitar, piano, zampona, saxophone), Bryan Rahija (vocals, guitar, bass guitar, charango), Stuart Robinson (piano, trumpet, glockenspiel), and James Phillips (drums, bass guitar, vocals, tenor recorder). In addition to the wide variety of instruments, Michalak, Rahija, and Robinson each take on lead vocals for several songs featured in Tarpits.
Unlike many of their genre’s forefathers, Bombadil dont rely on fiction. Behind a piano backdrop, Robinson sings of Matthew, a close friend who took his life. With dark humor (the Catholics would banish you to /well they should know that youre in/a better part of hell) in the chorus, it settles into sobering reality (I only wish you knew/that the gun that failed to fire beforehand/tried to tell you nothing new). Laurita, sung entirely in Spanish by Rahija, is about an acquaintance in Peru who had two girlfriends simultaneously. Michalak sings Marriage for his best friend as a wedding present, and promises the band will marry two of their die-hard fans in Kate and Kelsey.
Releasing music through Ramseur Records (home to fellow North Carolinians, The Avett Brothers), the band has had to put a tour on hold due to a severe case of tendinitis in Michalaks hands. The road to recovery could be anywhere from two months to two years (Robinson has also ceased touring for academic reasons). The band, however, remains optimistic, saying they will continue to write songs together in the interim.
It is that type of optimistic outlook that defines the sound of Bombadil. Through music of whimsy, they deal with death and love in equal measure, with heads held high, banjos being plucked, and pianos playing away remnants of sorrow. Tolkien would be proud.
The Making of Bombadils Tarpits and Canyonlands