Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
This past fall, we took our Barnstormer tour out east and on the way back to familiar grounds, we stopped in Akron, Ohio, not far from where the members of The Ridges live in Athens, Ohio. The old, Civil War-era barn that we brought the tour to that night was a beaut, nestled into an open valley, between some steeper hills. It was an old farmstead that was incorporated into a national forest somewhere along the way and it benefitted from the glory of feeling like it was in a bubble. Though just a quarter of a mile off a county highway, it felt as if you could be lost up there, as if nothing could get at you if you didn't want it to - just your own sick and painful thoughts, if you had any of those. The mosquitoes could find you, for sure, building like a chorus in the weedy, overgrown fields and kept grass. On the mild night that we were there, it was hard to tell what was rolling in, the thick fog or the thick skeeters. We soon found out that it was a little of both, but it seemed that the fog won out. Up there on that hill, with the ghosts of old farmhands sticking to their hiding places, we felt isolated and safe in that clean night air.
Ridges lead singer Victor Rasgaitis was there that night and in listening to the songs that they recorded with us a few weeks after that night, it's easy to appropriate that place for what they're all about as a group. Leading up to the barn, you cross over a set of train tracks, laid over a bed of gravel, surrounded tightly on both side by thick trees and your mind takes you on those rails, considering them able to take you wherever you might want to go. It's the lure of the tracks and being swallowed up by a dark night of travel and oak tress, coursing through the forest until you pop out in the middle of nowhere and the tracks just end. You're let off and you're then even more isolated, at the end of the line where you're stuck. "War Bonds" is a song that as a rolling as a memory, as scenes elapsing and tearing out of town. It's a reminder that "we'll all be dead in the end" and that "we'll be just like all of my dead friends." It puts you into a context to say fuck it through the lies and through the loves, more easily than perhaps you would have before thinking such things.
Rasgaitis, percussionist/vocalist Johnny Barton and cellist/vocalist Talor Smith - along with an assortment of auxiliary players and characters - make the kind of Americana music that falls off the bone, but it's hidden with turn of the century and Dust Bowl-era themes that make it understood that there's bone there still. It's tough meat that we picture hobos camped out just off the rails of that track cooking over their makeshift campfires. They're making beans in the can and biding time until they can hop the next bullet as a stowaway to take them somewhere else where they'll encounter more hardship and more alone time to get the demons rolling. They'll need something that burns on the way down to fight the cold that comes when the fog - the fog like that night - moves in and nudges.