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Bombadil: American Folk Rock Act with Bolivian Flavor

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I can’t remember the last time a band captured my heart like Bombadil did. A friend played me one of Bombadil’s songs “Sad Birthday” on Grooveshark.com, and I could not get enough. Never had I felt such utter joy than listening to that song which makes you want to jump up, dance around, stomp your feet, and clap your hands to the playful piano-driven song.

Bombadil consists of four guys from Durham, North Carolina, who formed a musical group in 2005. While studying abroad in Bolivia, guitarist Bryan Rahija and bassist Daniel Michalak, inspired by the local folk music, decided to start up a band. “Hearing stuff like that … really affected us,” Rahija says to PASTE. “It has such a cool and unique spirit behind it.” Michalak and Rahija learned how to play some of the indigenous folk instruments in Bolivia and ended up recording a few songs on Rahija’s laptop in a children’s music school.

Upon returning to the States, they added Michalak’s brother John (drums) and Stuart Robinson (piano) to the group. They played a show with the Avett Brothers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on their yearlong tour. Ramseur Records then signed them to the label.

Bombadil released their debut EP in May 2006. That fall, James Phillips replaced John Michalak after leaving the band to pursue academic interests. In the spring of 2008, the band released their first full-length album titled A Buzz, a Buzz and a year later released their second full-length album Tarpits and Canyonlands.

Bombadil has toured the United States and played in festivals like Bonnaroo, Floydfest, and Pickathon. But, in 2009, the band took a hiatus as Daniel Michalak had been suffering nerve damage in his hands. Michalak’s hands got to be so bad that he had to abandon playing his instruments during shows and only sing, but even that became too much to handle. Doctors weren’t certain what caused Michalak’s condition. The good news though is that the band is playing shows again, and it is releasing their new album, All That the Rain Promises on November 8, 2011.

“He’s a whimsical dude, he lives off in the forest in his own world and he plays music all day unaffected by all that is going on around him,” explained Bombadil guitarist Bryan Rahija to PASTE. Rahija is speaking of Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings, after which the band named itself. The name fits the band’s whimsical upbeat, Bolivian folk rock sound. Bombadil incorporates a collection of instruments: guitar, piano, mandolin, banjo, organ, xylophone, trumpet, flute, horns, and some crazy percussion to make their music come alive.

One of the best aspects of Bombadil is that their sound is so unique. It makes you stop and soak in the youthful energy that abounds in their music. You have no idea what you’re listening to at first, but you know you like it because the sound is so foreign to anything on the radio today.

The band’s lyrics are intelligent and diverse with a complemented emotional depth that makes you want more. The combination on each album of cheerful, optimistic songs and then the darker, more somber songs take you on an up-and-down emotional binge of life.

Bombadil’s Bolivian folk-rooted music will bewitch your soul and open your eyes to a refreshingly new sound that is so different and inspiring. With each new album, Bombadil continues to grow and mature together, and I have no doubt their new and soon-to-be released album will showcase their best selves yet.

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