Tattletale Saints,
How Red is the Blood
(Old Oak Music, 2014)

If you've ever wondered what a New Zealand act's idea of (it says here) "American roots music" might be -- I confess I hadn't -- How Red is the Blood will tell you what you need to know. It turns out that the answer is Simon & Garfunkel.

Here in the actual America, Simon & Garfunkel are nobody's idea, including theirs, of our roots music. True, they were a product of the early-1960s New York City folk revival, but few would think of them as folk singers, except by a broad definition that tolerates pop harmonies, earnest introspection and pseudo-artsy commercialism. The only traditional music in their repertoire consisted in its entirety of Paul Simon's filching of Martin Carthy's arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" (called "The Elfin Knight" in the Child collection); Simon learned it in the mid-1960s while touring British clubs as a solo singer-songwriter.

Not, of course, that Simon & Garfunkel are, more or less relatively speaking, particularly objectionable. It's just that I am unable to think of them without also calling up a psychic asterisk, bespeaking a seeming infinity of "on the other hands." As S&G did, the Tattletale Saints, who are the duo of Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan, sing the songs of one of them, namely Winstanley. Those songs are attractively melodic, hinting wispily at Winstanley's jazz background. The lyrics are, well, Simonesque: urban, reflective, moodily romantic. Happily, none give voice to the mopey 13-year-old angst of "I Am a Rock," "Sounds of Silence," "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" and other early S&G groaners.

The ubiquitous Tim O'Brien produces, pleasantly and acoustically. The Tattletale Saints bring the same adverbs to their performances. There is only one outright embarrassment: "Hank," their tribute to Hank Williams, sounding like something by somebody who's never actually heard Hank. Arguably as jarringly, it violates the principle that if you're composing a song, you should refrain from mentioning as much in the song. The one exception is Tom T. Hall's magnificent "Old Dogs, Children, & Watermelon Wine," which this isn't.

On the other hand, "We've Got Lakes" is truly lovely.

music review by
Jerome Clark

10 May 2014

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