Any flannel-clad Bon Iver disciple can pick up an acoustic guitar and throw together a few bleeding-heart tunes dealing with well-worn folk tropes like love, loss and atonement. But only a select few can dig deep enough to transform cliche into palpable, gut-wrenching feeling. Enter Brennan Mackey, brainchild behind Denver-based alt-folk outfit King Cardinal.
On King Cardinal’s debut EP, released January 2014, Mackey operated largely as a solo enterprise, relying on strong storytelling and sparse instrumentation to craft an alt-folk identity clearly following the footsteps of elder statesmen like Bill Callahan and Greg Brown. King Cardinal’s sophomore release, “Once A Giant”, finds Mackey confidently spreading his wings from singer-songwriter into full-fledged band leader, enlisting the services of bassist Andrew Porter, drummer Scott Roush (of Denver mainstays Rossonian and The Raven and The Writing Desk), pedal-steel player Ben Waligoske, and vocalist Texanna Dennie all while stretching into a sound more reminiscent of The Band or The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Recorded predominantly live in Roush's living room, and mixed and mastered by long-time Denver recording stalwarts John Macy and Randy LeRoy, “Once A Giant” is a lush and nuanced six-song EP that effortlessly meanders between moments of haunting poignancy and humble triumph. And while the songs may deal with timelessly familiar themes like regret, resolution and redemption, Mackey summons enough heart and understated emotion to deliver a composition that feels intensely real and adds a much-welcomed layer of depth to King Cardinal’s already strong alt-folk foundation.