Storm Conductor is the second full length release from folk/jazz combo Youth in a Roman Field and their first full length since the band’s 2012 debut Of Grit and Grace. It finds this Chicago born outfit, now working out of New York City, turning in a thirteen song release that will likely outstrip everything the band has offered thus far in both musical and lyrical content. Vocalist and songwriter Claire Wellin has established herself as one of the pre-eminent singing and songwriting talents working in popular music today, let the indie tag go hang, and there’s a wonderful confluence on Storm Conductor of the Americana strands running through the unit’s music as well as the other influences coloring in their work. Youth in a Roman Field, based on band name alone, may strike newcomers to their music as a potentially pretentious act, mired in overwrought histrionics, but everything on this release has an understated lyrical veneer both musically and in its words. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Even the largely instrumental opening “Your Hand in Mine”, with its subtle nods to classical influences, illustrates this point. This is a band working in their own territory, mimicking no one, but you find yourself irresistibly drawn into their web despite any remove listeners might experience thanks to their instrumental and songwriting acumen. The second song “Target on My Back” is the first full fledged lyrical and musical number on the release and finds Wellin even exceeding the exceptional performance she turns in on the abbreviated opener. The lyrics are exceptional and, perhaps, one of the underrated strengths of the band’s overall package.
“M.M.E.” revisits the length we hear with the opener, but it’s a much more lyrically developed number than “Your Hand in Mine” and focuses on interpersonal relations rather than reveling in introspection. “City Muse” and “Sixth & Crescent” sounds like they were conceived in tandem but prove quite complementary regardless. The former is an instrumental while the second exhibits some of the jazz influences Youth in a Roman Field are adept at employing in their music. They are very proficient at conjuring cinematic tunes that never traffic in purple theatrics, but instead show off an almost painterly vision for what music can accomplish.
The violin and vocal opening to the song “I Saw You” kicks off one of the most invigorating tracks on the album and Wellin brings just the right amount of vocal pyrotechnics to the table while, once again, never attempting to do anything less than dovetail her talents into the overall musical scheme. The jazz torch song tendencies of the track “When the City Goes Quiet” is a stunning finale for the album – it’s a purely acapella number with fantastic harmonies and some double tracked vocals. Wellin is, likewise, joined by other voices for this conclusion and it makes for a stunning, even unexpected, ending to a fulfilling music release. Youth in a Roman Field command a niche all their own in the modern music scene and their next move from here will definitely prove interesting; Storm Conductor stands as one of 2018’s most rewarding efforts and it’s difficult to imagine much better on the modern scene.