Drawing from a deep well of both traditional and contemporary musical stylings, DC-based quartet Ballad Of dances gracefully across its wide-ranging influences—from Appalachian old-time to early blues to experimental classical to indie pop and beyond. The band is comprised of Margaret Wasaff (vocals, guitar), Anders Fahey (vocals, banjo), Jonathan Een Newton (cello, fiddle), and Manny Arciniega (percussion).
With their debut studio record, Liminal Lover, Ballad Of continues to expand their sonic palate, taking their collective love of American roots music into lush, ethereal realms. Their new album features mostly original works as well as some shape-note hymnodies—an additional nod to the traditions that lay their groundwork. One of the key elements of their sound is the stunning, close vocal harmony that intricately soars above their instrumentation, whether stripped down to sparse acoustic guitar and banjo, or adorned with string arrangements and tasteful percussion. Running the gamut from old-time inspired barn-burners to slow-building, beautifully layered think-pieces, Ballad Of’s original music gives tradition an elegant contemporary treatment.
The group pairs the lissome beauty of their songs with a momentous, often literary approach to songwriting. Even their band name itself is an allusion to the long history of storytelling in the folk tradition (and even more specifically to the frequent appearance of songs entitled “The Ballad of…”). Wasaff, one of the band’s principal songwriters, seamlessly weaves poetic devices into her lyrics. Yet their work remains accessible, favoring well placed, nimble turns-of-phrase over dense prose. The songs that appear on Liminal Lover were written over the course of the last ten years, however each one was completed in the span of a few hours to a few days—never forced, but rather inspired swiftly from life events, literary works, and old songs and historical figures.
In addition to the band’s studio work, they have performed on stages across the Mid-Atlantic including multiple appearances at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival, Black Cat, and more. Since their formation five years ago, Ballad Of has proved itself a band of great range, originality, and nuance; with their new cycle of work, they’re poised to remain a mainstay of the DC roots scene for the years to come.