Wednesday, October 12, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 923: Red Tail Ring

This next album was one of a number of obscure albums I ordered on line after despairing to ever find them locally. My apologies to the local record stores, but they have received (and will continue to receive) lots of my money, so they don’t have anything to worry about.

What I do worry about is the rising cost of low production CDs. As the CD market dwindles mass produced albums are becoming cheaper and cheaper. However, low production runs of little folk bands like Red Tail Ring have a few copies printed and once they supply is depleted (within a year or two) the cost quickly skyrockets. Anyway, I got this next one in time, and here’s how it turned out.

Disc 923 is….The Heart’s Swift Foot
Artist: Red Tail Ring

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover? Band members Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo continue the time honoured tradition of awkward folk album covers.

How I Came To Know It: I found this article from Paste Magazine called “10 More Obscure Folk Albums to Add to Your Collection” and Red Tail Ring was prominently featured. I liked the sound and so I ordered this album online (when the article said the albums were obscure he wasn’t kidding).

Of the ten albums noted in the article I only have this one, but I am on the lookout for three more, so it was a pretty sweet musical lead. I then went on to read his earlier article, “20 Great Folk Albums to Add to Your Indie Rock Collection” and found five more albums I’m now on the lookout for. Also, note the title of this second article, hipsters. Yes that stuff you call indie rock is very often what us old timers call ‘folk’. Everything old is new again.

How It Stacks Up:  I’m still searching for Red Tail Ring’s 2011 release “Mountain Shout” (missed the release window) so I can’t really stack this up against anything.

Ratings: 4 stars

Every now and then I warn readers that an album is “very folk” meaning if you don’t like folk, it isn’t for you. “The Heart’s Swift Foot” is one of those albums.

This record is folk down to the bones, and unashamedly so. I’ve become so accustomed to the pop production on modern folk music that hearing it stripped down again felt too raw at first. However after a few listens the record soaked in nicely.

The band is a duo with Michael Beauchamp singing and playing guitar, mandolin and banjo. His partner Laurel Premo sings, plays fiddle, banjo, dobro and something listed as “feet” which I assume is stomping. Obviously they don’t play everything at once (that would just be silly) but they manage to create a surprising amount of layers by creatively latticing in the instruments of the moment alongside their voices.

Neither is the most powerful singer, but they have very sweet tones. When they sing harmony they have a nice loose quality with enough separation that you can sway your focus from one to the other, or experience them as a single experience.

In terms of singing style, Premo reminded me a bit of a cross between a Rankin and a Wailin’ Jenny. She has the phrasing and sharpness of lyrics of a Rankin, but the sharp edge and understated authority feels like a Jenny. When she sings “A Clearing in the Wild” that voice takes you for a walk in the wild, where you lose yourself so completely that you’re sure she could break your heart with one unkind word. Of course, she doesn’t.

Beauchamp is no slouch either, with a natural storyteller’s tenor on songs like “Katy Came Breezing” and “Queen of the West and Other Stories.” The latter song is a series of thoughtful examples of how people change over time, and that this is OK. Drunks sober up, couples drift apart, life goes on.

There are a couple of instrumentals on the album, both of which showcase Premo’s skill on the fiddle. “J In the Broom Straw” is a lively jig that could probably develop a little further but developed just far enough to keep me interested. “Ladies Choice Waltz” is a slow waltz that evokes country dances and beautiful down-home country girls who can make you feel calm just looking at you. Hearing “Ladies’ Choice Waltz” will make you feel like you are dancing across a bare-wood floor with the most beautiful woman at the ball. In my youth I was a bit of an insomniac and I’d play certain songs right before I went to bed to help calm my spirit. “Ladies’ Choice Waltz” would have definitely been one of them.

The traditional “St. James Hospital” didn’t grab me, but I think it is because I’ve heard a hundred variants of this particular tune over the years and it has caused me to get very picky about how it ‘should’ go. The other cover song is “My Heart’s Own Love” originally by Hazel Dickens, a folk and bluegrass singer who played through the fifties, sixties and seventies. I don’t know the original, but Red Tail Ring do a hell of a good cover. On a very traditional sounding record, it was a fitting song to finish up with.

“The Heart’s Swift Foot” is an album that takes some getting used to, but is worth the effort. On every listen I got something new out of it, even to the point where songs I initially overlooked became favourites. On “Katy Came Breezing” Beauchamp sings “I’m flesh and bone with nothing to hide” and hearing his exposed soul hanging there on the edges of his partner’s sustained fiddle note, it is easy to believe. Don’t be fooled, though; this record has plenty to hide. Delving into all those tucked-away secrets makes it more and more enjoyable on every listen.

Best tracks: Katy Came Breezing, Queen of the West and Other Stories, A Clearing in the Wild, Ladies’ Choice Waltz, My Heart’s Own Love

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