Bombadil shakes the Wake in Winston-Salem

The Durham-based band Bombadil packed Finnegan’s Wake in Winston-Salem last week. (photo by Kaleigh Oleynik)

by Kaleigh Oleynik

While some art invites imagination, Bombadil’s music isn’t so polite. Without waiting for an RSVP from the audience, members of the Durham-based band simply kidnap the attention of anyone who happens to be within hearing distance the moment they start to play. Should you ever find yourself picking up the faintest sound of a Bombadil song and compulsively moving towards it, remember: It may be temporarily unsettling to be dragged by the eardrums into a world of music that changes from sweet to folksy to downright nautical in a matter of minutes. But if you sit back and relax, you’ll soon discover that the eclectic tunes are taking you exactly where you never knew you wanted to go. The first time I experienced this phenomenon was over a year ago at the Flying Anvil in downtown Greensboro, when Bombadil opened for the Modern Skirts. To be honest, a friend and I had initially entered the murky venue as a test of whether we could get in for free by pretending to be British. It worked, but before we had time to revel in our accomplishment — or guiltily turn around to pay — we were drawn like moths across dance floor to the lit stage, where a curious musical quartet dominated. In marching band vests, ponchos and an assortment of vintage headwear, the members of Bombadil seemed to belong to an era that was both familiar and unreal.

They moved from rock anthems to South American marches, from piano-intense ballads to songs featuring panpipes and harmonicas so quickly that by the time we found ourselves waltzing through the enraptured audience to a piratical song called “Suzie Marie,” my friend and I couldn’t care less whether we were from Liverpool or London. The effect is overwhelming. When I heard a girl at the bar exclaim, “Wait, when did he get a trumpet?!” this past Friday in Winston-Salem, as Bombadil filled Finnegan’s Wake with music, it seemed like a perfect summary for the atmosphere of their live performances. It’s almost hard to believe that the group can mold such disparate musical elements into an exciting, pleasant sound. When I asked Bryan Rahija, one of the band’s founding members, how they brought their many influences together in Bombadil’s new album, A Buzz, A Buzz, he compared the process to cooking a meal. “You try to combine flavors and colors that might not fit together when you first think of it,” said Bryan. “Like at the Native American Museum in DC, there’s this restaurant that has food from all the different regions and tribes, and I specifically remember one time tasting their mango-onion chutney. It was awesome. Mango and onion — you wouldn’t think. But they tried it and it worked. That’s how I feel about what we’re trying to do with our songs.” Spiced with the sounds of zampo’a and searching, Tom Robbins-influenced lyrics, A Buzz, A Buzz was released in April of this year by Ramseur Records, a recording label the band shares with the Avett Brothers. Bombadil has tentative plans to put out another CD before the end of 2008 with a possible live recording of their upcoming show with Holy Ghost Tent Revival at Cat’s Cradle on Sept. 27. “It’s going to be a big show, so we want to capture some of the live energy. To get people to participate and be really excited about what we’re cooking up.” When I pointed out that the food metaphor had now become something of an allegory, Bryan laughed, “We’re hungry people.”