Spotlight

Cains and Abels

“The song manages to balance the sour with the sweet by backing up the harsh vocals and twanging guitar nicely with twinkles of keyboards… bringing together a powerhouse of a song” – Beats Per Minute

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It’s easy to forget, nowadays, that not too long ago, listening to Rock & Roll was a teenage act of rebellion. For Cains & Abels frontman David Sampson, Rock & Roll records remained contraband; they could only be listened to in the quiet of night. Chalk it all up to a strict religious upbringing in which, according to Sampson, “only very specific classical and folk music were allowed in the house. For a kid down the street, it wasn’t rebellious at all, but for me, listening to the Beatles had the same charge that it would have in the 60’s.”

The name of the band calls to that very specific kind of rebellion. Conjuring the Old Testament sons of Adam, one evil and one good, Cains & Abels’ name represents about the juxtaposition and co-existance of good and bad, of pleasure and rebellion. “We’re all good people and we’re all evil,” Sampson says, “in the same actions, and we can’t help it.”

Although they’ve regularly been compared to certain lovesick folksingers, Cains & Abels lack any of the helplessness so often present in the classic folk rock oeuvre. Sampson writes songs that are indeed heartbroken—for lack of money, love, communication—but they’re also hopeful and aware of their own strength. Like the ballads born out of the mountains in the Appalachians, Cains & Abels songs tell stories using rich imagery and narrative. Sampson, however, doesn’t tell his tale over an acoustic guitar. This is rock and roll that recalls the sounds that lived inside Sampson’s teenage boom box: from classic soul and Elvis to more modern players like Neutral Milk Hotel and Will Oldham.

Sampson has a galloping, powerful voice, and it glides over the rich, warm guitar chords and spare drum beats of the bands emotive songs like a sermon and, sometimes, like a plea. The songs themselves present that opposition at times. They can be quiet and introspective, and then, at the next turn, booming and bursting with universal themes. Their new album, My Life Is Easy, begins with a soft harmony and a nearly tribal beat, with Sampson’s big voice filling the space with a plea for communication. On paper, this need is simple, something solved by a tiny phone call, but for a Cains & Abels song, the tiny call becomes a battle cry.