Myself a hiker having backpacked the Grand Canyon nine times, wandered through the unearthly beautiful Four Corners redrock regions for more than two decades whenever I could nab vacation time (for as much as a solid month when I worked in aerospace), I'm always interested in the outdoors, and the Denali wilderness fascinates me…though I'll sure as hell never go there. The goddamned bears scare the living bejeezus out of me. I'll take rattlesnakes (I've been chased by 'em) and scorpions (chased by those aggro little bastards too) all day long, even share space with lynxes and coyotes…'cause they're nothing compared to friggin' ursines. All bears, I think, are Republicans, out of their minds. Emma Hill, however, was raised in Alaska and has a huge appreciation not just for its beauty but also its way of life (Sarah Palin and family excluded, I think we can safely assume). That's what she's on about in Denali.
This is Hill's fifth CD gig with music partner Bryan Daste. She moved from Sleetmute and Palmer, Alaska, to Portland, Oregon, to my mind the coolest big city in the United States (in the 70s, I lived for a while on Burnside Ave. just up from the bridge and famed Powell's book store and still reflect wistfully on the mellow, friendly, metropolitan area), and therein found a number of the locale's finest musicians, well displayed here in somber laconic Americana refrains in support of Daste's impressive acumen, practically a one-man band. I haven't laid ears to their earlier work, but, if it's anything like this one, I need to. So do you.
Daste is indeed a daunting multi-instrumentlaist (voice; acoustic, 12-string, baritone, and pedal steel guitars; banjo; upright bass; harmonium; glockenspiel; omnichord; sax) while Hill plays acoustic guitar and sings in an enchantingly plaintive voice lustrous with meaning and memory, sometimes piercing with its urgencies (If the Gods). Her, Daste's, and the sessioneers' music is full of wide open spaces, as Alaska ever invades Hill's being and fiber. The situation is kinda like a folk version of the Nordic chamber musicians found on the ECM label: always in touch with the beauty and austerity of the cold upper reaches and their striking understated vibe.
Sad Again is my favorite track, an aching weeper much mindful of Mary Fahl (October Project) sans all the magisterial stratospherics. The two, Hill and Fahl, achieve the same tear-your-heart-out effect but by different means. Emma and company, in fact, would make ideal touring partners with Oct. Proj., she and mates trudging the emotional and physical barrens in lush aridity before the Project took the stage and blew it all into the stars…where exist the same existential conundrums. The lyrics broadsheet distills all her poetry, and I found myself grinning in recognition as I read the verses to Lioness, a quirky but very interesting rumination upon the Medea legend as it applies to one aspect not well noted in the female sex, especially not within modern 'feminism', but also reflective of what's missed in the Hindu cognitions of Kali. Hill isn't saying that latter part, I am, but it's there, and I'm betting she'd agree.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles