Forty years ago Rufus Wanta sent lyrics to one of the song-poem studios that were popular at the time. The record he eventually received from the company was, with its tacky torch-song treatment, a big disappointment. Call it poetic justice, then, that keyboardist Nathan Wanta uses words penned by his grandfather in a song written by his band, Last of the Blacksmiths. "And Then Some" is the A-side to the band's recently minted 7-inch, which also features another intergenerational collaboration the cover artwork was drawn by vocalist-guitarist Nigel Pavao's father.
A sense of history the past as pretext figures heavily in the musical vision of Last of the Blacksmiths, a group whose extraordinary camaraderie is immediately clear. "There's family involved," drummer Bert Garibay explained as the band gathered for rehearsal in their modest studio, near the end of the J Church line. "We played Rufus Wanta's 80th birthday party. It's more important than playing big shows it's real."
Bassist Jake Bunch, whose father played bass professionally in the 1960s, added, "There are no egos in this band. It's one of the reasons we have been able to stay together as long as we have."
Indeed, after four years Last of the Blacksmiths may be hitting their creative stride. The new single and an as-yet-unreleased LP were put to tape by Desmond Shea, whose talent for crafting Americana gothic is evidenced in records he has made with Jeffrey Luck Lucas and the Court and Spark. "We trusted Desmond because of his body of work," Garibay said. "It was the beginning of a new understanding as a band." Pavao, who recorded the band's self-titled debut along with Garibay, further explained, "It didn't take Desmond long to get what we wanted to do. He pushed us and showed us where we needed to focus."
The result, recorded live in the Studio That Time Forgot, is a wide canvas on which patience and space are valued over punctuation and bombast. Each instrument whether Wanta's loping Rhodes piano or the cherubic mandolin of Pavao's confessional B-side, "You Think I'm OK" is allowed to settle into a graceful groove and assert itself without force. Wanta channels his elder over a loamy soundscape decidedly more appropriate than the old song-poem cut: "I gave until the hurt was real / I suffered today for tomorrow's meal."
Last of the Blacksmiths haven't yet set a release date for their full-length, which is being mixed, but the disc, like the 7-inch, will bear the mark of their new label home, the Vanguard Squad, which also offers "logical disputation and investigation of truth, art, musings, manifestos, and general fuckery" through its Proletariat Press. "It wasn't a big stretch," Wanta confessed. "[Label owner] Bambouche is a dear friend who likes our music." But the compelling question for Last of the Blacksmiths is not "who do we know?" but "where have we been?" And in the end, one of their greatest strengths is the ability to embrace their craft as they have their heritage as an unbroken line forward and back. *
LAST OF THE BLACKSMITHS
With Or, the Whale and the Finches
Sun/20, 8 p.m., $10
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF