Two voices, one guitar, one trumpet. Carl Christensen and Charlie Schneeweis are an interesting duo, but the music they make on Black River is quite effective and bears repeated listening.
Christensen sings lead and plays guitar, and is the composer of all thirteen songs. Schneeweis sings backup vocals and plays the trumpet. It's the trumpet: that's what distinguishes their sound. Schneeweis's versatile trumpet expands the range of the basically trad- sounding music, sometimes lending a jazzy, dramatic flair, at other times providing a smoky, film-noir sound. At other times, overdubbing produces a one-man brass section. Meanwhile, occasional backup vocals from singer-songwriter Louise Taylor add depth and body to the otherwise all-male sound.
Not that Christensen is any slacker on vocals. His uniquely emotive baritone, edgy with vibrato and yet authoritative and righteous, is more than a match for the various musical forms his songs take on.
The musical fare runs the gamut of styles and topics, from love songs (Why Only You, The Love We Had); to ballads and lyricism (John Brown and Red-Winged Blackbird, the latter featuring Christensen and Taylor in a sweet call-and-response); and Biblical references (Child in the Manger, Don't Turn Away, about the Good Samaritan, and You Walk with Me, which achieves a kind of grandeur with its overdubbed vocals and brass). Can't Say No has a quasi-calypso feel to it, and seems to examine the darker flip side to the Beatles' Ob-La- Di, Ob-La-Da.
In Good Company, Christensen plays with surrealist imagery a la mid-sixties Dylan, as the song details a conversation with Pablo Neruda, Pedro Valdivia, Inez de Suarez, and the Virgin Mary, sitting on Neruda's veranda while watching a storm at sea. This song, of course, features the obligatory Dylanesque harmonica between verses, and is a little more linear and focused than some of Dylan's hallucinogenic lyrics.
Christensen also experiments with a spoken-word piece in Night Patrol, a half-sung, half-spoken monologue of a policeman on his city beat, who seems a heartbeat away from inciting violence himself. This piece, though perhaps a little over-long, nonetheless contains some of the most disturbing imagery in this collection.
As a whole, Black River is a low-key, meditative, earnest album, and Christensen and Schneeweis are a duo to watch for.
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