Balto – The Railyard
Balto – Elizabeth the Bumblebee
A lot of times albums with epic backstories get dragged down by the constant focus on where the music was made and not how or why (see: Bon Iver). Other times, referencing a backstory, while potentially interesting, has nothing to do with how the album was shaped or conceived. Daniel Sheron's story is both interesting and clearly relevant to the often sparse, dark, and heavy folk he creates as Balto.
I'll just let the man himself explain the situation behind October's Road:
"Balto came into being when Daniel Sheron abandoned his life in Moscow, Russia and went alone into Siberia. Against an ever shifting backdrop of railways and desolate wastes, he wrote a cycle of songs to tell the story of what had happened in that strange country, why he had exiled himself, and why he thought it mattered. In train cars and crumbling cities he encountered PEOPLE, and they inhabited the songs he was writing and the notes he was taking."
After tying his life-changing experiences into his songwriting, he returned home to America. He called up some of his musician friends and they set about recording the entire album in a single day. The recording process provides an interesting counter to the depth of emotion and time it must have taken Sheron to develop the songs while wandering Siberia. The combination makes for a fascinating album.
There are heavy bluegrass and Americana influences to Balto's work, but you can never shake the lingering image of dark, snowy landscapes rather than rural, Southern farms. "The Railroad" starts the album off beautifully with a harmony of voices reading a goodbye letter to a lover. The theme of picking up and leaving begins immediately, as Sheron professes loneliness over a gently strummed mandolin, harmonica, and acoustic guitar. "Elizabeth the Bumblebee" is the lone upbeat song, poking it's light imagery through the dark veil covering the album and giving us a little hoe-down action in the process.