In its purest form, folk is the music of the collective, songs handed down through generations, familiar melodies reinterpreted, new lyrics resurfacing over old chords. Paradoxically, it’s also lonesome music, capable of being performed solo, carried by one voice and an acoustic guitar.
On their debut album Refinery, Louisiana-based Slow Rosary embodies the tension between being an individual and being a part of something much bigger. In the last four years, singer-songwriter Rene Duplantier has evolved his once solo act into a guest house for performers. Refinery brings together Rene’s friends, family, schoolmates, coworkers, etc. to shape his original compositions into expansive soundscapes. Intense, immediate production by Blake Robicheaux allows sparse acoustic arrangements to distort into full band crescendos. Ringing guitars merge with swelling horns while choral voices soar over violins and thumping drums. From the indie rock odyssey “Evangeline” to the show-tune-esque “Patron Mother,” each track provides a unique foundation for Rene’s folk-inspired lyricism.
With images that couple environmental despair with Catholic surrealism, these songs draw their power from the humid depths of Louisiana, where glowing oil refineries dot the vanishing coastline. On Refinery, intimate memories are haunted by existential uncertainties, over God, the environment, and the possibility of human connection. An oil spill stains the Mississippi River as a relationship falls apart. A lover’s thoughts shift from an unrealized romance to the extinction of pollinators and the end of humankind. A young man spends a night at home for the first time in as long as he can remember, then guilt creeps in as he recalls the legend of the Virgin of Montserrat.
Throughout Refinery, songs ebb and flow between old and new, collective and individual, connection and separation. In the opening track, Rene sings, “I gave up talking to people for so long I forgot how to teach.” It’s a lyric about isolation, but it’s sung to one of those rare melodies so natural that a first-time listener will feel they must have heard it somewhere before. The tune reemerges later in the record, not long after Rene sings of chords rewritten, borrowed, and forgotten. While this idea of lost music reflects the missed connections mourned throughout every song, well-placed reprises and lyrical callbacks suggest the faint possibility of reunion.
Refinery doesn’t solve any of its contradictions, but leaves them to be pondered, in a disorienting new world that feels strangely familiar, a riverbend, run dry for years and slowly restored.
Look for Refinery everywhere on August 27th, 2021.