Califone – Heron King Blues
Califone exists in the same dream world as Tom Waits, albeit more sweetly sung. In fact, the relatively mellifluous characteristics of leader Tom Rutili’s vocals cause them to entwine with the musical settings in a way completely different from Waits, whose carnival-barker persona always stands him front-and-center in the fray. The lyrics drift along with fractured poetics, often drawing less attention to the phrases themselves than to the movement of melody across the quiet complexity of the arrangements.
The amazing potency of Califone is the fact that the surface is friendly and inviting, reeling listeners in until, without realizing it, they’ve left their familiar roads behind and have wandered deep into the forest. “Lion And Bee” for instance, would seem to have origins in the folk-like strum and bearing of its chordal structure, but the subtle electronics and carefully scuffed production make every aspect of it function like one perfectly balanced, yet idiosyncratic contraption.
The 15-minute title track is an instrumental workout built over a slide bass groove that’s got one foot in Beefheart-filtered swamp mud and the other in spacewalk weightlessness. This extended piece reveals itself to be the fuel source that empowers the relative control woven through the six songs that it follows.