Bowerbirds – Hymns For A Dark Horse

Burly Time Records – Rating: 8.5

About 2 years ago, Ticonderoga frontman Phil Moore took a job tracking birds in in the wilds of North Carolina. His wife and Bowerbirds collaborator Beth Tacular took up residence with him in the remote cabin. There the writing what would become the beginnings of of the band’s material. They later teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Mark Paulson and became Bowerbirds.

The concept of living quietly in the heart of the rural calm gives one a good understanding of the band’s sound. Hymns For A Dark Horse is an album that conveys not only the feeling of isolation from society, but also contented joy in being apart from the urban buzz. It’s the kind of album Thoreau might enjoy, should he have made it to the indie-folk revival. The songs regale the earthy and the tangible; showcasing things like solitary moments alone with tea, describing them with a particularly fervent joy. While the music fits into the category of folk, but manages to retain a pop sensibility that sets it apart from much of the new “freak folk” movement. It’s rural American music, by way of both its instrumentation and the lyrical content. Hymns For A Dark Horse is music out of time, sparse and open enough to play well around a campfire as well as a half-lit club.

With the album opener “Hoove”, the loose strums of solitary acoustic and voice is joined shortly after by a rumbling of minimalist drums and accordion. The beauty in Hymns For A Dark Horse is found in the instrumentation choices: the voices delicate rise and fall between chorus and verse, punctuated by moments of kickdrum stomp and the enveloping purr of the violin.

“Bur Oak” showcases the strongest facet of Bowerbirds: interweaving vocals of Beth Tacular & Phil Moore. The melodies arrive strong and warm, filling in the voids that the minimalist accompaniment often leaves. Many of the songs move along at a moderate gypsy pace, but the times where the music slows down as with “The Marbled Godwit” we are left with the most gorgeous of the album. The moments where Phil Moore’s trembling voice shares space with just acoustic guitar and sorrowful violin shows how you can convey more with far less.

Hymns For A Dark Horse is the sound of joyful isolation, an album to listen to while watching snow fall on a quiet forest. The music’s beauty and simplicity grows more endearing with repeated listens.

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