Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Big Huge
"Crown Your Head With Flowers, Crown Your Heart With Joy" 2004

Psychedelic Folk:
After disbanding the Baltimore-based band Sonna (=kind of tapestry alternative music) Drew Nelson decided to fall back on his folk interests. With the help from Michael Lambright, Jim Redd and Chris Freeland he developed some ideas that led to this home-recorded album. The music has interpretations of traditionals combined with singer-songwriter playing, (a fine example is "Harbor to a Hill"), experienced and developed in a relaxed way, as developed over some experience in quiet American folk bar experiences.
"The Big Huge" might refer an interest in the Incredible Stringband album, but I found it first hard to tell why this reference could be meaningful. On "Autumn Hymn" Drew tries to sing with odd variations, which is possibly the influence from ISB, still in a slightly "Americanized" way. But also on "Dogwood and Sky" you can hear how Drew really tries seriously to make a similar effort as ISB to renew the British folk tradition with some slightly different vocal variations, even if it isn't the same as ISB did, because here it sounds in a way more traditional. Also he doesn’t always succeed too well to sing this perfectly, it still is a clever direction. The album has a certain young sound, which is recorded with such a calm self-expression the result makes it surely worth hearing. Still I'm curious how the group will develop further.
The combination of arrangements also is nice. "A Lofty Hill a Shady Nook" is a beautiful instrumental with accordion and acoustic guitar.

Unbroken Circle:
This band of three members is from Baltimore in the US but has on the whole a distinctly English folk sound. Perhaps this is to be expected as their band name is of course drawn from the excellent album of the same name by The Incredible String Band from 1968. This Incredible String Band reference is carried forward too into the music which is simple but effect folk song with some psychedelic elements occasionally woven in.

'Lows at the Highland Game' starts with bell chimes before a moodily atmospheric acoustic guitar refrain which leads us into the quite gorgeous guitars and vocal of 'Harbor To A Hill'. We have here direct folk song of the highest order, reminding of the simpler Dr Strangely Strange songs. The sound is very specifically English which is surprising given the band are from the US. 'Sweetest Lily' is a stark scrubbed banjo song with a wonderful melody. 'Slumbering Lioness' uses accordion drones that brings us towards James Yorkston's sound whose fans would enjoy this album greatly. Melodically the shifts between notes in the lead vocal hint back to the Incredible String Band influence.

There is a feeling of playing in a garden, delicate and part of the air on the next 'Autumnal Hymn'. After a solo vocal 'Bonnie Boy' we go into accordion and acoustic instrumental 'A Lofty Hill, A Shady Nook'. Next 'Dogwood and Sky' is again a vocal song with clapped hands and a sustained air of expectation. 'Atop A Secret Mountain' has musical percussion and a song that really does sound like late period Nick Drake without being slavish to that great artist, indeed it sounds like Dulcimer of the late 60s. Penultimate song 'Willie of Winsbury' is a traditional song also done in the last couple of years by Kate Rusby here done starkly on banjo. 'A Fond Farewell' rounds off the album nicely with an instrumental restatement of one of the musical themes on the album and then a vocal song which bids us farewell.

This has a been a very soft, exploratory album that has strong performances and one the band can build even further upon for subsequent releases. It's a great discovery and one of the more directly folk releases of the recent era. They deserve your support.


Anonymous sub_commandante_marcos said...

Great album - if you like it, Drew will have a new album out soon, so buy it. He's a great guy & deserves your support.
Cheers!! - SCM

09 December, 2006 07:13  

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