When Medford's Black Record Collection released The Flatville Murder Album in early 2006, the group consisted of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Matt Foster and Mike Davis. The disc, recorded in the front room of a house in Fourth and Gill and in the basement of another house in North Hills, is a lengthy cycle of old-timey style ballads and breakdowns, interspersed with brief excerpts from classic folk songs, all about death—especially violent death. Flatville runs on Foster and Davis' instrumental accomplishment and intuitive partnership, alternating between frenzied technical picking (on guitar, banjo, and mandolin) and moody, dark-minded dirges. The album was something of a revelation: a bleak work of folk classicism molded for a contemporary audience.
So MBRC's second disc, Eccentricity NOS, released in March, came as a surprise. The band added bassist Clint Mullican and drummer Derek Whitaker since the completion of Flatville, and recruited an all-star list of local songwriters and acoustic players for extensive ensemble contributions. It's still almost entirely acoustic, as Flatville was, but Eccentricity incorporates a much wider range of influences, from classic country and Southern rock to flashes of American Beauty-era Grateful Dead.
"We did it so we could get Friday and Saturday night gigs," Foster says about the decision to add Mullican and Whitaker. "So we tried playing with a full band and ended up liking it quite a bit."
Davis insists that his and Foster's songwriting hasn't changed. But he says the added rhythm section has affected the way the songs are performed. "I always wrote with a lot of time-signature changes," he says. "But you can't get that across too well without drums. The biggest change has been the dynamics added to the songs.... The more stuff there is on stage, the more you can do with it. I like having a full band a lot. Sometimes it feels good to have a massive volume of sound. You can go out and knock down walls with it if you want to, or strip it down if you want to."
Foster and Davis continue to write songs, even as they're still introducing the songs from Eccentricity to audiences in town and across the Southeast. They say it will probably be another year before they release their third record, but that's not for lack of material.
"If we had the time and money, we could put three more albums out right now, based on the volume of songs we've been writing," Davis says. "But we'll need to pick out a direction to go with for the next record. We both like records that have some cohesiveness to them. We like it to mean something. So there's a lot of searching—picking and choosing what to develop for the new record when we get there."
That wasn't exactly the case for Eccentricity. The band had enough material for a full album when they won Preservation Pub's 2006 songwriting contest, which earned them studio time at Eric Nowinski's Rock Snob Studio. They were only planning to record a few tracks until they got to the studio and realized the difference between Rock Snob and their own basement.
"We weren't planning on getting a full album done when we went into this deal," Davis says. "Then we thought, ‘We've got all this capability. Let's get some other songs ready.'"
The bigger cast for Eccentricity—which includes Roman Reese, Kevin Hyfantis, Sam Lewis, John Puckett, Jay Clark, and Christina Horn of Hudson K—came together from the songwriting contest as well. Foster and Davis invited the other finalists and semifinalists from the contest to take part in the recording.
"One of the things we set out to do with Eccentricity was to get some of our friends on it," Davis says. "It's not just us. It's the other people who make it worth listening to. And it's not a bad representation of what's going on in this town."
photo by Brooke Everett