Boca Chica is a Pittsburgh based indie-folk band in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Joanna Newsom, Gillian Welch, etc, etc… I use the term band, but in reality Boca Chica functions more like a collective. It’s a rotating cast of characters jamming along to the songs of Hallie Pritts. Boca Chica began in 2004 as a duet featuring Pritts (vocals, guitar) and Susanna Meyer (bass, vocals, flute). Since then, the group has grown at a healthy clip. In addition to Pritts and Meyer, their latest album Lace Up Your Workboots features Jeff Baron (guitar, banjo) Christopher McDonald, (keys, banjo, guitar, vibes, vocals, synths, sounds), Lisa Campbell (Cello), Matt Miller (Drums, Vocals), Jeff Ryan (Drums), James Hart (Pedal Steel, Vocals), Dave Flaherty (auxiliary percussion ), Drew Ceccato (Electronic Valve Instrument). They’ve recently picked up a new drummer, Ricky Moslen, who does not appear on Lace Up Your Workboots but will appear on the next album. And it’s not uncommon for additional friends, including the entire cast of Cuddle Magic, to join them on stage. You get the picture. With eleven-plus members and twenty-something instruments between them, the permutations are pretty much endless.The name Boca Chica (Spanish for Little Mouth) was chosen on a somewhat of a whim. Pritts and Meyer were slated to perform at a folk festival and thinking that “Pritts & Meyer” sounded too much like “old man jazz” they decided to choose something new, eventually settling on Boca Chica. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind it, but Boca Chica is a more fitting name than Pritts and Meyer could have possibly imagined at the time. Why? Because for an eleven member collective, perhaps the most striking thing about Boca Chica is that they know how to shut up. Really. Often large ensembles fall into the trap of trying to play over one another rather than with each other but not so with Boca Chica. They never step on each others toes. This band literally can go to eleven, but usually they hover around four or five, and sometimes bringing it all the way down to one. The dynamic range is astounding.
A-side “Lake Erie” is the first cut off Lace Up Your Workboots and the album’s most obvious hit single. It’s gotten moderate radio play in recent months, reaching #16 on the Roots charts and #2 on the Pennsylvania Roots Charts—“yes, that actually exists,” Pritts admits with a chuckle—and it’s easy to understand why. It’s accessible but not in an overly familiar way, and memorable enough to prompt repeat listens. The tune begins with a softly plucked banjo riff, later mirrored on acoustic guitar. Drums sneak in and then Pritts’s soprano pierces through the mix. An ascending cello line creeps in at the B theme (“I met a dog, he stole my song…”) providing just enough harmonic motion to tear the heartstrings. And McDonald’s shimmering vibes make for a nice musical interlude before an impressive climax. I’m not talking about climax in a cheap Hollywood sense. I’m talking about climax as a dramatic technique, a “decisive turning point in the action” or the moment from which the outcome becomes inevitable. As soon that persistent 8th-note snare kicks in at around 2:25, a build is put in motion. An orchestra kicks in—cello and elegantly bowed upright bass—before the song finally erupts out of necessity into a quiet refrain.
“Out in the dark and dead of night
I dug a hole, for to leave behind
But by the morning’s piercing rays
Show that some things though buried
Do not decay…”
Ultimately, “Lake Erie” is nothing short of what Pritts describes it as: “a heavily orchestrated song about death.” And what could be more fun than that?
B-side “Like Sheep in the Night” is a little more out there. When I first heard the title “Like Sheep in the Night” I imagined a bizarre hybrid of Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night and an insomnia-induced mental breakdown. Not quite, but the result is equally intriguing. First of all, the lyrics are primarily in French, with selected lines in English. Pritts used to live in France and had been toying with the idea of writing a song en francais for a while. “It’s kind of silly and a real French person would probably scoff at it because it doesn’t make a ton of sense,” she admits, “but I liked the way the words went together. It’s vaguely about wandering around a French city looking for an open bar.” Like sheep in the night…
“Les moutons de la nuit
Trouvent mes yeux remplis
Oh bien dormi!
Keep on evading me.”
Or, a significantly less poetic English translation:
“Sheep in the night
Find my eyes full
Oh good sleep
Keep on evading me”
Meyer’s vocal harmonies add a lot to the mix, emphasizing the last line in each stanza. But oddly enough, for a French song, the music is decidedly American. The pedal steel guitar and classic three chord progression scream country. The solo section is yet another beautiful anomaly. I call it a solo section, but these aren’t solos—they’re just a few notes. First, a melodica blast. Then, little electric piano blips reveal a funkier side to the song that the band flirts with without fully indulging in. Everything a solo should be, minus the solo.
So what’s next for Boca Chica? Brian Krasman describes Lace Up Your Workboots as “a top-notch, major-league record that easily and rightfully should be their ticket out of town and onto the roster of a major indie label.” I couldn’t agree more. The entire album is mellow gold. Backseat will send you into a reflective stupor and Valentine’s epic ending will build you back up again. As for being a ticket out of town, so far the band seems content with their surroundings, but hopes to expand their gigging radius. Record labels take note.