Agnes on the Cowcatcher
(Borealis, 2002)

Agnes on the Cowcatcher is the new CD from Canadian folk band Tanglefoot, and it's well worth the wait -- although I'm glad I didn't have to wait any longer than I did to get a copy. Everything you would expect from a Tanglefoot CD is here: songs that tell vivid stories, strong melodies and gorgeous vocals and harmonies, all of which demonstrate the versatility and range of the band.

Tanglefoot is Joe Grant (vocals, fiddle, guitar), Al Parrish (vocals, Bartlett bass), Rob Ritchie (vocals, piano, accordion), Steve Ritchie (vocals, guitar, whistle, boots and needles -- no, I don't know, I'm just reading the leaflet here) and Terry Young (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo, tenor banjo, harmonica). The songs, models of elegant simplicity, are all original, written by the band members in various combinations; the musical arrangements are solid and tight; and Steve Ritchie's vocal arrangements are magically seamless. The band members share the lead vocals; each voice is different and appealing and together create a sound that is more than the sum of its parts.

The moods of the songs are tough and tender, whimsical and wise, carefree and careworn and everything in between. The music and lyrics mesh neatly, and the result is music that is speaks to the senses and emotions. "Backyard Sailor" evokes a bracing sea breeze with its rolling melody and lyrical descriptions, while the structure and rhythm of the melody of "The Commodore's Compliments" convey the song's narrative about a man who rises above the military mind set to show compassion.

You can hear the train wheels rumbling and rolling through "Roll on Jamaica" while the spirited song encompasses the lively title fiddle tune, "Agnes on the Cowcatcher," that fits beautifully into place. "Feu Follet," about how the souls of those who lust after money burst out of the body into a ball of "insane fire," crackles with energy, and the exuberant "Midwife's Dance" captures beautifully the emotions and experience of bringing a child into the world.

While Tanglefoot is known for high energy music and "full throated abandon," the band brings the same high quality to their slower and more introspective songs such as the poignant "Miners and Mercy" or the lullaby-like song "The Garden," about a woman courageously sheltering a child not only from physical harm during war-time but sheltering him from fear as well. One of my favorite tracks is "Willow Dan." In this song about a dowser who not only finds water in parched earth but also awakens the narrator to her own potential, the musical accompaniment underscores the words. As the song progresses, the keyboard notes ripple and bubble up to the surface like a clear fresh spring, and the many layers and textures of the song never fail to fill my heart.

There are still six more songs, all just as good, and I haven't tired of the CD yet. To catch Agnes on the Cowcatcher visit Tanglefoot's website. Better yet, while you're there, check out the tour schedule to see when they'll be anywhere near you. Tanglefoot is awesome live, and it's well worth the drive to get your CDs in person.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 20 July 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.