The Handsome Vultures
The Handsome Vultures make exactly the sort of music you want playing while you’re getting your ass handed to you in a bareknuckle fight in some seedy Irish pub, followed up by a pint of ale and a shot of whiskey. It’s rousing stuff, music that makes you want to stomp your feet, and it could inspire just the right amount of rowdiness to get you into trouble.
Though they haven’t been together very long, the Handsome Vultures are no newcomers to the Reno music scene. Ringmaster Jason Ricketts, lead vocalist and accordion player, is a familiar face from the ranks of Buster Blue, as is Jay Escamillo, the Vultures’ drummer and guitarist Billy Dohr. Banjo player Fil Corbitt and bassist Christopher Stehman were both members of the Xenophobes, a hard-rocking “psychorebilly” band out of Gardnerville. Guitarist and mandolin player Skye Evans and Corbitt have another project, too, called Last to Leave. Finally, fiddle player Ally Reith, another Gardnerville native, was part of a local music project called Avian Orphans. Though at first glance one might see only a ragtag collection of young miscreants, similarly garbed in hoodies, sweaters and hats, when it comes to their music, they have plenty of experience.
The name comes from a song by Sunset Rubdown, called “Hey You Handsome Vulture,” which Ricketts says always stuck with him.
Fiddle, banjo, guitars, mandolin, accordion, upright bass and drums all come together in a sort of folk-rock, building upon layers of relatively simple parts that fit together loosely at times but click neatly into place for some fairly impressive tempo and dynamic changes.
During a weeknight rehearsal in a cold Reno basement, the Vultures deliver a delightfully muddy mix of rock and folk, with a few original songs and a couple folk standards, such as “Wizard’s Walk,” and “Up The Wolves” by the Mountain Goats. Ricketts takes his opportunity at lead vocals to demonstrate a vocal range beyond that which Buster Blue fans are accustomed.
Beneath a single bare light bulb, he opens his throat in a rich tenor, easily cutting through the seven instruments in the room. When the music picks up, as Corbitt clicks on the distortion overdrive on his banjo, Ricketts pours in the throat gravel, and the small confines are quickly thickened with what can only be described as fighting music. There are touches of early Camper Van Beethoven, some vocal delivery not unlike Joey Ramone, and the same spirit and mood for which the likes of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys are known.
When asked what genre the band members consider themselves, Corbitt pipes up quickly with, “Death folk.”
For a moment, Ricketts disagrees: “That’s not what I would use to describe us.” But he goes on to say they are inspired by, and sound like, groups such as O’Death and Murder By Death, to which Corbitt responds, “Yeah, those are folk bands with ‘death’ in the name. Death folk.”
Beyond that, the Vultures are remarkably close-mouthed when it comes to talking about their music. Asked if they have a core message or meaning from which they operate, they respond with more jokes.
“Our mission statement is ‘Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!’” says Ricketts, laughing (and quoting Blue Velvet). As non sequitur as that might sound, none of the Vultures chime in to contradict. For them, anything they have to say is in their music and apparently needs no additional description.