Last updated on June 26th, 2023 at 12:33 pm
Southern Minnesota songwriter and guitarist Arlo Cristofaro spent the first half of his twenties traveling the Midwest before returning to the country in a converted school bus and raising a flock of sheep. Spending his weekends fly fishing the Root River, he spooled his debut album from old poems and new ideas, all spinning around the premise of our bodies’ movement through the world.
Set to release on June 21st, On the Surface of the Creek is the result of his landscapes and the observations of what we can learn in our surroundings. Recorded just outside Northfield with bassist and co-producers Pat Keen (Humbird, Ian Sweet) and guitarist Dex Wolfe, along with drummer JT Bates (Bon Iver, Bonny Light Horseman), the 6-pack of songs channel American folk that lies in the veins of Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, and similarities to the textured comfort of Iron & Wine.
The single “I-90” interweaves the distance of a long journey with the transitions of change that can affect us for years to come. The song cruises down that path of familiarity we all encounter, filled with memories, coffee, and the loss of life. It traverses that stretch of road that leads to learned lessons and reborn hope.
With songs titled “South Dakota,” “Idaho,” and “Barn,” we get a strong indication of the importance of location. Cristofaro revels in descriptive narratives that paint a picture while sharing his revelations. “South Dakota” is a solid introduction to Arlo’s fingerpicking and the influence of Pat Keen’s sheen. The wistful lap steel, percussion, and bass recordings provide a snow globe of sounds that reinforce the poetic lyrics.
“She says: The lawless mind is a riot
It knows no states or borderlines
Just a quiet night of driving
Each thought is a copper shining bright”
“Barn” is the caboose of the album that poignantly hears Cristofaro chronicle a fire and the end of a path. The symbolism in the structure lends to the acceptance of knowing you did everything you could, watching it come down in front of you. The weight of the album’s simplicity shines with this finish. The soft thump of drums combining with the breathy “ohs” sends shivers across your skin.
Packed inside this short but potent debut album is the magic of Cristofaro’s songwriting that travels the shortest distance from the ears to your heart. Baked into the songs are strands of wheat, wool, and the wide open spaces of Midwest countrysides. On the Surface of the Creek is an ambitious debut that should instantly become your travel companion on any road trip this summer.