Split Tongue Crow,
Split Tongue Crow
(independent, 2010)

Upon receiving the self-titled album for the Vermont-based band, Split Tongue Crow, I was struck by the tasteful and compelling graphic design. Laid out in earth tones on an environmentally conscious digipak, the spare graphics suggest an antique understanding of the human body and the link between us and nature. An image of a tree growing out of a cross-section of a human head at once suggests a cycle of life, while also rather poetically implying that the songs/poetry/art of human beings informs and infuses our relationship with nature.

The graphic design of this album is one of the most tasteful and interesting I have seen in years, speaking to the audience on subliminal levels and suggesting what type of musical experience the listener is in for without garishly spelling it right out. In a world of tacky urban band photos and overdone mood pictures of musicians with their instruments, this is a refreshing, artistic and powerful choice. It certainly raised my expectations for the music I would hear. I hoped that the musical attention to detail was no less powerful and nuanced. I was not disappointed.

Split Tongue Crow is a fantastic album, tastefully crafted, ranging from simple Americana traveling music to rockabilly and folksy backporch virtuosity. The sound is tight, professional, clean and artfully arranged. Cooper Anderson's recording and mixing is professional and tastefully transparent, allowing the music to shine through without being at all heavy-handed. While the entire album is engrossing and enjoyable, some standout tracks merit comment.

"Avalon," written by bandmember Eoin Noonan, starts with a meaningful and soulful guitar riff showing off Noonan's crisp command of the instrument. The arrangement, like so much of this album, is simple, open, tasteful and earthy. The harmonies are sweetly spare and perfectly phrased.

"Mothers Okay" is a heartbreaking ballad about the finding of a man's elderly mother, suffering from memory loss and dancing happily with her "new family." The story is quirky, unusual and interesting and feels more like listening to a short story than a song. Noonan's storytelling is elegant. He has obviously learned that less is more, allowing the listener to fill in gaps in the poetically rendered story, making the tale immediately more personal to each listener.

"Manuel" takes the band into a slightly harder sound, electric guitar riffs accompany a rollicking boom-chick acoustic guitar strum over a tasteful, traveling drum part. This song at once is reminiscent of Charlie Daniels, though not so overproduced, and perhaps some vintage Johnny Cash, with a nice contrast from the soulful ballads on either side of it.

"The Day You Left This Earth" gives vocalist Cara White a chance to step out of her harmonist role and step out in front of the band. Given how pure and pleasing her voice is, one wonders why she is only featured on this one song of her own composition.

This entire album is a wonderful discovery for me. This is a band worthy of recognition, artful and fresh in their compositions, compelling in their lyrics, musically strong in their instrumental arrangements. I look forward to hearing much more from them in the years to come.

music review by
David Connor

30 April 2011

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