La Strega and the Cunning Man in the Smoke
If there's anyone making music more beautiful than Dylan Carlson, then show me. Now. Because it's not true, you're a liar, and it's not possible. His solo records are a continuation of the wobbling drone blues that he has just about perfected with Earth, but expanding slowly, on a tangent, into folk music. The music feels exploratory and exceptionally beautiful; I'd have cried in part if I wasn't a dry husk of a human being.
Where to even begin with this album? Much like the mellotron and field recordings of ‘Edward Kelley’s Blues,’ the genesis can found in a recent trip to the British Isles, with Carlson researching our indigenous folklore and traditional faire folk. The probing field recordings lend levels of abstraction to gently spoken poetry; a sound which is somehow both atonal and blissfully melodic.
The album is built around the subtle guitar mastery of Carlson and Jodie Cox, with and the haunting vocals of Teresa Colamonaco, but what he achieves with these elements is simply incredible. His ear for texture and melody is something that seems to get better with age, and as he evolves as a songwriter and musician there's no telling what he could achieve.
What he's doing is refining the act of performing music to such a degree that he is achieving with just three or four notes what lesser musicians dedicate whole songs to. People evangelise about The Edge's ability to "speak" with as few notes as possible, but Dylan Carlson is light-years ahead.
There is a familiar repetition, synonymous with many drone releases however this is far from formulaic or derivative. Carlson’s trademark Americana tonality continues to run deep throughout; an echo-like quality as the album progresses. It's difficult to write a "naive" riff, or a "forlorn" riff, but somehow Dylan Carlson does it.
A stunning, stripped back version PJ Harvey’s ‘Last Living Rose’ claims right to the showcase song. Lifted from the award winning ‘Let England Shake’ album, Carlson borrows the loose blues of Harvey’s original; a portrait of a country built on bloodshed and battle, but delivers a plaintive restrain which falls perfectly in line with the albums theme.
There is no pretence here, heartfelt and dark, yet somehow always glistening. Hand yourself over to the album, let it wash over you and drown in its down-tuned vicariousness.
If you have a heart then you'll love this album. If you don't, how are you even reading this? You are clearly dead. Dylan Carlson plays a UK tour this Autumn, culminating in a date at Supersonic festival. I know I'll be there, front row and centre.
Posted: Wed 19 September 2012