It has been a long time coming since Griffin’s first languorous tone poems arrived under the Monarchs moniker. Her music career started when she scooped up an old piano for free from an empty apartment and picked out her first unschooled tunes at her grandmother’s house in Homewood for the Oak EP, her first release. Her musical inclinations followed her to Austin, where she released a second project, Those Words, Those Frames.
Though Griffin records and performs under the name Monarchs, she is the only common denominator and, though there are regular contributors, the personnel is fluid according to time, place, and circumstance. Backing Griffin on her Alabama tour are Van Hollingsworth (The Magic Math), Alex Mitchell (Great Book of John), Anna Carrigan (Andy’s Tea Party) and Josh Cannon (Jon Black). The new album, though recorded in Austin, also includes some collaboration with local musicians including the aforementioned Van Hollingsworth, who has been playing with Celeste since the Oak EP days, and former Wild Sweet Orange front man Preston Lovinggood, who encouraged her as she picked out her first tunes on her found-art piano.
The third CD, and first full-length release, shows that the Monarchs have matured and synthesized the styles of their first two discs. It’s more professional production provides an improvement in sound quality from the early recordings done at Wade Sand & Gravel. I miss the rawness from those early recordings, but the progress was inevitable.
The instrumentation is a little country and a little bluegrass, with mandolins, steel guitars and songs featuring plenty of minor vocal harmonies, such as in the tracks “A Love Alive” and the eponymous “The Rise and Fall.”
While their second album was pretty up tempo, The Rise and Fall returns to a more solemn and deliberate pace, with themes of self-centeredness and selfishness in love punctuated by the sing-song, Southern-gothic humor of “Business Casual,” with lyrics like “looking so fantastic lying in your open casket.”
The languid pauses and bursts of power of Griffin’s early work are both more modulated and integrated on the latest album, but the smoothness of the recording should not mitigate the compulsive energy and magnetism with which Monarchs perform. Even with the drawn-out drawling pace of songs like “Date Night,” look for them to find a way to rock the Bottletree on Saturday night.
Monarchs are set to play their hometown of Birmingham at Bottletree on Saturday, August 13. Also on the bill are Austin’s Mother Falcon and Edward Appleby of Mobile. For more information on Monarchs, visit monarchsfamily.com.
Stephen Humphreys is the publisher of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.