ICYMI — ‘Wicker Cathedrals’ Marries Humor and Anguish

There is simply not enough laughter in indie rock. At face value, a genre so often associated with pain and sadness — an introspective reflection of self through pen and paper — doesn’t blend well when mixed with comedic themes. When it does, and in the case of Adam L. Reed (known musically as Shepherds & Sailors), it’s the mark of a sharp songwriter. On his most recent album, released earlier this year, titled Wicker CathedralsReed accumulates years of work into a grab-bag of time-and-place records.

Wicker Cathedrals by Sheperds & Sailors album art

Photo courtesy of Shepherds & Sailors on Facebook

On “Wicker Cathedrals,” the title and intro track, Reed makes his style and influences known. His voice is wailing and passionate, reminiscent of NMH’s Jeff Mangum, and his method of musical presentation is chord-forward. On records like “Darby on Derby Day” and especially “Hunter Bay Cafe’,” Reed’s ability to illustrate the setting in a song becomes evident. Horsetracks and coffee shops illuminate in living color as Reed provides fast, punchy guitar lines — background music for the scenes. And they’re funny: “she’s always dreaming ’bout India,” he sings, “but she’s never left the county,” before breaking into an auto-tune-laden chorus (a hilarious addition to any folk-rock record). On “Hunter Bay Cafe’,” Reed paints employees and customers alike through humorous lenses before hitting a climax of sound in the song’s final minute. By then, the Hunter Bay Cafe feels all too familiar.

Bow & Arrows” is a murky, pleasing track. Reed layers guitar play — and his plucking gives shades of “early-Dead” records. On the other end, “D.O.M.O.” (an acronym for “dancing on my own”) sees Reed strumming intensely behind high-pitched, harmonics. Sonically, this is one of Wicker Cathedrals’ more pleasing moments. On “Invest in Real Estate,” Reed is desperately looking for a place of contentedness — a house to call a home. It features some of his sharpest guitar chops and pleading vocals that are both clever and reflective. It’s a great record that exists best right where Reed placed it — smack dab in the center of the album.

Shepherds & Sailors

Photo courtesy of Shepherds & Sailors on Facebook

Shepherds & Sailors is arguably at his most comfortable when he’s playing down. “Heart Is My Home” is this album’s “realization” record. It’s buttery and flowing. The album’s outro track, “Travel Love,” may very well be the high point. Reed sings through muted vocal effects like that of an A.M. Radio. “In real-time, I realize, we both will have regrets,” he croons. Whistling bridges the second verse and conclusion on the record, putting the mind at ease. It’s a perfect closer to a versatile, easy-on-the-ears project from Denver’s own Shepherds & Sailors.

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) is an ongoing series for 303 Magazine where we talk about the music you may have missed when it initially dropped. Have something you think we missed? Email inquiries for the series to [email protected]