By the time you get to “Sugar Baby,” the fifth track on No Line North’s new Dreams Of Trees, Pt. 1, it’s as if vocalist Jon Schlesinger is spinning around the room in a dizzying, earwormy game of call and response.
“Who’ll rock the cradle? Who’ll sing the song? Who’ll rock the cradle when I’m gone?” he asks. His voice is soaked in melancholy, like it is in the Dock Boggs original. Something shifts and rattles low in one’s chest while listening.
Less than a beat, and he is answering himself. “I’ll rock the cradle. I’ll sing the song. I’ll rock the cradle when you’re gone.”
We don’t have time to consider the sad lyric switch. He’s already onto the following verse, full of breath, and we are listening for what he might say next.
But Dreams Of Trees is not a mournful album, so much as a celebration of where No Line North has been, and where it is going. After its jammy and sometimes mellow Farther Out Beyond Today in late 2014, the band has returned to dig deeper into its Americana roots, ironing out better lyrics and tighter arrangements.
With Schlesinger on guitar and vocals, John Gage on drums, vibraphone and percussion, Mike Kiefer on drums, John Leonard on bass guitar, vocals, and percussion, and Brian Slattery (in full disclosure, arts editor at the New Haven Independent) on violin, it lands at comfort, with a few surprises thrown in.
Like “Line Drive,” the especially buoyant first piece on the album. It’s instantaneously that track for the beginning of a three-hour drive through open road and Connecticut farmland. No vocals disturb a layering of guitar, bass, percussion and violin as they swoop in, and when an ominous beginning gives way to a festive, measured release of sound, it is all you can do not to dance in place, or swing a partner around the room for a few moments.
”Line Drive” gives Dreams Of Trees a certain, just-so momentum, flowing casually into the swingy, singsong “Butterflies” just shy of the eight-minute mark. We’re reunited with Schlesinger’s loping vocals, slipping comfortably through bouncy threads of fiddle and guitar as a female voice — Lys Guillorn‘s — rises up to meet them.
“The wind will blow / Sure as the sun will rise / In between these scenes / There you go in time,” Schlesinger sings, and a scene of him rocking slowly at a microphone emerges. The band loses itself in music around him. He grins, from ear to ear, and thinks about what to play next.
Where Farther Out Beyond Today didn’t always seem to know where to put instrumentation (or, perhaps, how to mix it), Dreams is more confident, experimenting with slow, rhythmic and even trance-like in “Sky & Sea,” bluesy and propulsive in track four, “Under The Sun.” With new songs come new references: the now-disbanded Poem Adept, Roy Peak, and Dinosaur Jr. if they could just mellow out a little.
Those nostalgic for Schlesinger’s signature vocals can still find them — particularly in “Sky & Sea” — but he’s added something new. Something palpable, like a dream willed into being.
The band was “just looking to conjure some wise old spirits from our country’s history to make America sane again — or ourselves at least,” wrote Schlesinger in an email to the Independent earlier this week. He added that while his musical goals haven’t shifted, he sees the EP as a change within the group. It wants to be putting music out more often.
And listeners have more to look forward to in eight months. The second half of the album will be released next January.
“Part II will be a bit grittier and lean more into our garage rock tendencies,” Schlesinger said. But it’ll feed off Part I, too. “Imagine it will see the light of day as a full album,” he said.