FOGHORN STRINGBAND'S Outshine the Sun certainly isn't the first album to be recorded in a Portland living room. But as followers of the Northwest's roots music scene know well, Foghorn is no contemporary bedroom pop act or garage band. Rather, the quartet is among the finest practitioners of American old-time music on the globe, a string band whose faithful renditions of songs from bygone decades are no less than living, breathing history. That's not to say they play museum pieces; Foghorn's remarkable achievement is in making these careworn tunes sound vital, present, and fully relevant. In a town that's riddled with whimsical throwbacks to old-timey fetishes, Foghorn Stringband remain absolutely authentic and without discernible gimmick.
Mandolinist/singer Caleb Klauder says, "That's been one of the neat things about Foghorn all along, that we tend to bring out old traditional songs that are part of a big, huge community across the country, of this traditional genre. And it's crazy how deep the well is. There are so many recordings, so many renditions—the same songs have been done in different variations. Even if we change it a little bit, we're adding a new version of the song into the pot."
While Foghorn has been around for over a decade, Outshine the Sun is the first recording from the newly solidified quartet. Klauder and founding fiddler Sammy Lind were left holding the Foghorn torch when three other members quit some years back; they persevered as Foghorn Duo, and then, with guitarist Nadine Landry, they also performed as Foghorn Trio—designations which confused some longtime fans. With the addition of guitarist/singer Reeb Willms (Landry has shifted to upright bass), Foghorn Stringband is once again a full ensemble.
The new album contains 21 tunes from assorted pockets of American history: There are songs from both rural and urban settings; songs from the intersections of black and white music; songs of God, and songs about the devil; songs to dance to, and songs that are far too fast to dance to. "Foghorn, I think, kind of crisscrosses back and forth," says Klauder, referring to the difference between the bluegrass style and the old-time traditional style—as he explains, bluegrass was based around presentation, flash, and progression, whereas old-time music "was still retaining a tradition and working with maintaining things, rather than trying to outdo itself.
"A lot of the songs are old and traditional and we've even learned them from the source," Klauder continues. "And we'll change them in the sense that we might play it faster or in a different key, but the arrangements are probably pretty similar—because the arrangements are nice, and we like to keep them that way."
Outshine the Sun's release will be celebrated with a square dance at the Velo Cult bike shop and bar—a stone's throw from the Moon and Sixpence, where Foghorn regularly plays informal Sunday night sessions. The album was laid to tape with a similar approach of simplicity, as the band performed around a burning wood stove and a handful of mics. "It is that same vibe," says Klauder. "We're all playing really close together, we're not spread out in different rooms, we're not wearing headphones. We're playing it so that we're all hearing it in real time. There's bleed, and that's part of the sound. We are trying to get the best sound we can get without compromising our energy together."