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Houstons Return with Still

New Familiars' studio debut brews up The Storm

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"I love the idea of motion as stillness," says the Houstons' Justin Faircloth, describing the band's latest, Still, which gets its CD release party Saturday, Sept. 1 at Snug Harbor. "I love dichotomies -- Still is that for me. It's a really personal record. Much of it has to do with overcoming personal fear."

Those notions permeate the musical DNA of the band's third release, and first on locally based MoRisen Records. Still is loaded with arrangements so lush you can almost touch them: warm guitar lines, keyboard gauze, chamber-pop string accents, and hummable melodies from indie rock to 60s‚ pop and other harmonious points in between.

Recorded in Faircloth's home studio, the record is the first featuring the Houstons' expanded line-up, which at that time included Vance Carlisle, Mark O'Brian, Tanja Bechtler, Chris Walldorf, Chris Lonon and Lindsay Beyer. (The current line-up is Carlisle, Mike Kenerley, Grant Funderburk and Justin's brother Matt.)

"It used to be Matt and me recording 95 percent of all the instrumentation and vocals," Faircloth says of the Houston Brothers, the earlier two-man incarnation of the band. "We felt like we had reached a wall with the two-piece where it was holding us back. And we're not interested in that, creatively or otherwise. I want to bash through walls when I'm making music."

Faircloth says the band was shooting for "a lot of open space and hi-fi sound" on the record and cited the work of producers like Jon Brion, John McEntire, and Daniel Lanois as sonic starting points.

"It's a conscious decision to try and make each sound live in its own space as we go so that we don't have as much work to do in the mix," he says. "Then at the end, it's fun choices to make instead of flailing to make sense of chaos."

That could also sum up Faircloth's new mind-set after he put the band on hiatus for a year before returning to record Still.

"Several things had to change in my personal life," he says. "I immediately began writing songs like crazy ... it was furious and electric and real. I knew the work was my best to date. But I had to make sure that my ego was out of the way of the music, honestly. I've been working very hard at that. Everything that we do now has to pass that test."

Mission accomplished, gentlemen.

NEW FAMILIARS DROP THE STORM: The New Familiars call its sound "Folk-core Music from the Foothills," and that's an apt description of the band's first studio release, the six-song EP The Storm, which celebrates its CD-release gig Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Visulite. Blending influences ranging from Woody Guthrie and the Grateful Dead to Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams, the Charlotte band delivers a mix of acoustic folk, bluegrass, rock and blues with a visceral intensity to match their raucous live gigs.

The band shares songwriting credits between Eric-Scott Guthrie, Justin Fedor and Josh Daniels (James Stratford and part-time drummer Ryan Ramirez fill out the roster), yet the sound and narrative blends together as though written by one -- which they say is kind of the case, anyway.

"We all do the writing, sometimes as a group and sometimes as individuals," says Guthrie. "When we have time we'll all sit down with a general theme in mind and we've had some great success at writing material as a group."

"We've drawn the inspiration for all of these songs from our lives," Fedor adds. "We've lived these songs."

People who haven't heard the sonic differences between The New Familiars and Charlotte's best-known acoustic unit would be wrong to assume that anybody's riding the coat-tails of The Avett Brothers.

"I think we are more of a rock band then they are," Daniels says. "Plus, rowdy acoustic music is happening everywhere! It's not like they were the first band with a banjo and an acoustic."

"The beauty of acoustic music is it's a level playing field," says Guthrie. "You don't have a bunch of modifications to change your sound, it's raw ... stock if you will. Personal style and technique is what differentiates musicians from one another in this genre.

"I don't really worry too much about an 'Avett's overload' at all. In part because I think we're clued into what they're clued into. This is honest music, penned by the performers, sung with the heart on the sleeve, and I think that's the real reason why you're seeing this folk evolution starting to build serious momentum."

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