By Tanner Kent
---- — Last August, Mankato bluegrass trio The Last Revel lit out for an isolated cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with a promise to record its first full-length album.
Tonight at the Kato Ballroom, they deliver on that promise with a CD release party for "Uprooted," a 13-track blend of thoughtfully constructed lyrics and clever instrumentation that announces The Last Revel as a band with serious intentions.
"In the last year, we've really grown as musicians and realized the potential of the path we're going down," said Ryan Acker who formed the band in 2011 with Lee Henke and Vinnie Donatelle. "We're taking more pride in what we're doing."
And with good reason.
"Uprooted" comes almost exactly two years since the band debuted its first recording, "The Mason Jar EP." But in the interim, band members hustled throughout the regional music scene, playing in the neighborhood of 130 shows a year. Though such a schedule left little time to record, it did provide plenty of opportunity to hone a repertoire founded on folk-minded harmonies, bluegrass tradition and the spirit of rock rebellion.
As such, listening to the band's latest work is akin to opening the cork on an aged spirit. And what emerges is complex, full-bodied and mature.
After a crafty instrumental intro, the first notes on the palate are "Lead Me Home," a sturdy, upright tune that serves as a sort of declaration that music-making is a vehicle for, rather than a byproduct of, the search for personal satisfaction: "I got a feelin'/in my bones/that this ramblin'/will lead me to my home."
On the next track, "Light in My Eyes," The Last Revel displays its emotional and instrumental range. For a band whose reputation is founded on spirited live performances and is admittedly more comfortable with up-tempo tracks, "Light in My Eyes" is decidedly contemplative and searching. The mood is underscored beautifully by Donatelle's fiddle solo, a 30-second tour de force that Acker characterized as one of the highlights of the album.
"It's my favorite piece of music I've ever been involved with," Acker said. "When he started playing those notes, it took the air right out of the room."
The song pairs well with the plaintive goodbye in "Oh Dear Oh Darling" and the haunting undertones of "His Days Are Gone." Elsewhere, however, The Last Revel is at its raucous best.
In "Off the Shelf" and "Bones," the band shows its penchant for tavern-razing harmonies while exploring substance abuse and mortality. In "Lonesome Girl," the band brought in guest pianist Ian Moreland to add a bit of beer-soaked, ragtime charm to the saloon-style come-on. And the unexpected arrangement of the folk tune "In The Pines" — which is the only cover on the album — serves as nod to music tradition while exemplifying the band's ability to put its stamp on the genre.
Taken cumulatively, the album is well-paced and diverse with an emotional depth that is perhaps uncommon for a band making its full-length debut.
"We focus very strictly on songwriting and making music as a trio," said Acker, adding that all three band members are multi-instrumentalists and share vocal duties. "We're definitely evolving and maturing."
After following up tonight's release party with another on Saturday at the Turf Club, the band will embark on a five-state, 17-date tour that carries them through April. Acker said he hopes the effort will help springboard The Last Revel into the next stratosphere of performing groups.
"We definitely want to spread our wings and play to as many people as we can," Acker said. "The next step is starting to play outside our region. And that doesn't happen overnight."
For more information about the band, visit www.thelastrevel.com.
If You Go What The Last Revel CD release party, with guests Kind Country When 8 p.m. today Where Kato Ballroom, 200 Chestnut St. Tickets $7 at the door