Author: Steve Klinge
The Rural Alberta Advantage work with a minimalist palette, which throws each contrast into sharp relief. With acoustic guitar, keyboards, and drums, the trio perform compact, thrilling songs that bristle with restlessness.Friday night in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, the RAA opened with "Luciana" from their 2008 debut, Hometowns. The song is built on the frenetic, tumbling drums of Paul Banwatt and the eighth-note acoustic-guitar strumming of Nils Edenloff, mirrored by Amy Cole's keyboard chords.The song has only a few chord changes, which made each one sound dramatic, and Banwatt's percussion dominated the melody rather than supported it. Near the end, everything dropped out except for Edenloff's plaintive voice, but that was just a breather to heighten the impact when everything kicked back into full gear. It turned out to be the template for the RAA's 65-minute set.Hailing from rural Fort McMurray, Alberta, but based now in Edmonton, Edenloff writes of cold Canadian winters and colder love affairs, full of local color and history - a tornado in the late '80s, the ice breaking during the spring thaw, "The Deathbridge in Lethbridge." He sings in a reedy, strained tenor, favoring long, singsong lyric lines with barely a pause between them, except when he gathers a breath to shout a verse or three. Those vocals, coupled with the hard-strummed guitar, have earned the group comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes.On record, the RAA add strings, horns, and electric guitar to color some tracks, especially on their new CD, Departing. At the Unitarian Church, the trio stuck to the basics, although Cole occasionally pinged a glockenspiel or pounded a tom drum. As they played almost every track from their two albums, their go-to moves - the stop-start moment, Cole's siren-call backing vocals, Edenloff's single-chord strumming, choruses that end with an extended ascending note, even Banwatt's great, thunderous drumming - risked formula.But that's a quibble: Especially in rave-ups such as the taut "Four Night Rider" and the hurtling "Barnes' Yard," the moves worked to their advantage.