You might've heard of Tarnation. Almost a decade ago, the ensemble was a 4AD band and well-regarded critically, Rolling Stone citing their debut as one of the 25 classic alt-country bands. Whereas many alternative country ensembles have been either over-the-top shitkickers, sardonic one-shots, or ennervated Goths communing with prairie dogs over morphined-laced pretzels, this CD emphasizes its alternativeness with the sort of chamber classicalism that continues to make Love's Forever Changes and the Zombies' Odyssey and Oracle such enigmatic creations. No one can quite determine what's being done, but everyone loves the material…often from a puzzled but attentive distance.
Paula Frazer often incants with a mournful voice caught between Joan Baez and Cass Elliott, both tranked to the gills while lush string passages matrix paeans of love and loss as though a medicating fog slipping down from the mountains. More than a few times, she rises to a fluting upper register that enchants the ear from the other side of the scale as well, as in Nowhere, sporting a bare instrumental background favoring the ethereal multi-vocals.
'Somber' is the key word here. 'Dirge' wouldn't be a bad choice either, as positivism is pretty much an absent quality. Thus, one might consider crying in one's beer while listening, but that's voided first by the haunting quality of much of the fare and then by the hold these genre-less songs exert on the palate—piquant, dulcet, and bewitching. Though not of an ilk with them, I'd place this CD alongside such superior "cow-punk" work as The Cowboy Junkies and Rank & File, not as a compeer necessarily, but as the neoclassically brainier sister.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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