New Spring Strings – arborea and Evie Ladin
New Spring Strings
By Douglas Heselgrave
“Music is better” – Frank Zappa
Music is the most versatile and portable of all the art forms. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as I’ve been working my way through listening to a boxful of new CDs while renovating my basement. Literature – unless you’re listening to someone else read – requires a person to stop, sit down and interact with the printed word in an active way. Otherwise, you lose the plot – in more ways than one. And, there’s nothing passive about visual art. It’s a commitment to occupying the same physical space as the artwork and interacting with it in a way that is both tactile and intellectual. It can’t be done on the fly, or meaningfully experienced through flickering images on an iphone. But, music – thankfully – because of its ephemeral, non-corporeal qualities, doesn’t require anything more than ears to hear. Sure, there is the physical, real time experience of attending a concert and feeding off both the musicians and the other people in the audience, but the sheer variety of music I’ve been hearing in the last week – sometimes actively deconstructed and critically assessed and other times casually taken in at a near subliminal level – has reminded me that music is the most effortlessly pervasive form of entertainment available to us. Here are two of my favourites from a week of listening that has been both intense and passive.
Arborea is a Maine based acoustic outfit centred around multi-instrumentalists and singers Buck and Shanti Curran. Their music is very hard to pigeon hole. On the one hand, their sound is so light and ethereal that it threatens to drift away from the listener’s ears without registering. It would be very easy to leave the experience of hearing them there and not go any further, but that would be a terrible mistake. For, the sounds they create, though gentle and all but subliminal at times, resonate with a complex musicality that grows on the listener if given a chance. Arborea’s approach is very similar to The Cowboy Junkies in that one expects or at least hears opportunities for the players to break out and solo or change the timbre of a vocal in order to stand out, but they never do. This music is very balanced and disciplined as each player offers counterpoints to the other without ever giving way to the temptations of ego or flashiness.
Given time, the layered sound of the Currans’ guitars, dulcimers, violins, kalimbas and other instruments insinuate themselves and reveal a psychedelic approach to acoustic standards that renders old chestnuts like ‘Black is the Color’ into pastoral string symphonies. The version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Phantasmagoria in Two’ arborea interprets here is masterful and certainly reason enough to purchase this album. Put the CD on repeat, and expect the day to slip by under arborea’s haunting, downtempo spell as the delicate strings and haunting, ethereal vocals wrap themselves around your ears. Listening to ‘Red Planet’ is the perfect balm and antidote for relaxing after a busy day.
By Evie Ladin
Edie Ladin is a fixture in the California bluegrass scene and is most well known for her work with the Stairwell sisters. ‘Float Downstream’ is her first solo album and to celebrate the occasion, she brought string legend, Mike Marshall on board to produce as well as play guitar and mandolin. Quite simply put, ‘Float Downstream’ is one of the most enjoyable, well produced and played bluegrass based recordings to be released in quite a while. Ladin’s voice is a revelation. Clear, strong, delicate and emotive all at the same time, it’s hard to imagine ever getting tired of her singing. The same goes for her claw hammered banjo playing that ranges through a variety of styles and emotions – at once quoting Doc Boggs before moving between hootenanny and Mardi Gras music – sometimes in the same song.
Thematically, many of the songs on ‘Float Downstream’ seem to involve reflections on the dissolution of a long-term relationship. But, unlike many ‘breakup albums’ where each song does little more than express wallowing in pain or anger, Ladin provides a refreshingly mature perspective and insight into carrying on with life when love has gone. Specifically, ‘Romeo’, ‘How Did You Know’ and the title track are exemplary examples of adult love songs that deal with complicated subject matter, yet never lose their swing or get bogged down by maudlin sentimentality. In fact, the music is gorgeous and special mention must be made of Marshall’s guitar and mandolin work that is breathtaking in its precision and simplicity.
‘Float Downstream’ was originally released in 2010, but is just starting to create a buzz and gather steam. A new album is promised soon, and if it’s anywhere as good as this one, it should be a serious contender for acoustic album of the year.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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