The Americana band evokes a strong sense of place, one partly real and partly imagined.
What happens to folk music when it plugs in? Americana. What happens to Americana when it puts its headphones on and wanders around a quiet city at night? Last Good Tooth.
"You're not forced to be in the crazy all the time," says frontman Penn Sultan, of the band's old stomping grounds in Providence, Rhode Island. He speaks fondly, almost wistfully, of the music scene there, where three of the four band members met while in college. Kevin Sullivan (bass) and Penn went to Rhode Island School of Design together, and later met Alex Spoto (fiddle) who was attending Brown. Sultan's grade school friend Arthur Kapp joined up as the drummer, and the band jumped into the conversation. Their second album, Not Without Work and Rest, due out on May 28 from Team Love Records, feels like eavesdropping on a night out in Providence. And who wouldn't want to be a voyeur to a bunch of smart kids with stringed instruments? Last Good Tooth plays Siberia Thursday night.
Not Without Work and Rest has a thoughtful sparseness to it. Many of its songs bashfully emerge from clips of conversation into richly layered, anthemic compositions, full of hope and fiddle. Its sense of place is strong, transforming the room you're in into a rustic one in the woods. Your foot starts tapping on the wooden planks of a cabin floor, other feet start stomping along, and before you know it the tiny room is filled with bodies swinging each other around, elbows hooked and heads thrown back. Skinnydipping might be imminent.
It's music that comes out of community, and Sultan describes playing music in Providence during college as a "bunch of friends who look out for each other, but push each other too." He names some of his friends' bands as having been as influential to him as more iconic folks such as Doc Watson and Joanna Newsom. Though his voice has that deep Appalachian quiver and there's plenty of fiddle, this isn't southern music. It comes from some intangible, make-believe place, occupying a memory and a wish at the same time. It comes from a curious nostalgia, reaching past songs about "boots or whiskey" to find something young and exuberant and universal.
The band members have all left Providence now, moved to smaller towns and bigger cities, and keep writing music together. The meandering questions and self-reflection that drive Sultan's lyrics, as well as the inspiring force of fellow musicians, continue to be defining factors for the band, no matter where they live. As they get back on the road to tour the album and bring out new songs, Sultan looks forward to what new places will bring to his songwriting. "Motel 6's are extremely inspiring places," he says. "You're definitely stuck in a corner with yourself. This is the Motel 6 tour."