I really ought to update the News page more often, considering that the last time I did so was back in February to announce the release of Fields Burning. It appears I’ve waited until the release of another album to post here again. That’s right, Marian McLaughlin’s Spirit House is out!
When I began working with Marian back in 2013, the original plan was just to record bass for a couple songs on her debut album Dérive and perform with her as a solo accompanist (which I did). Yet almost from the get-go I recognized in Marian’s intricate and uncompromisingly original songs an opportunity to add something more, and since then I’ve been writing—and rewriting—arrangements of her music for different ensemble forms. Two years later, the end result is just about as fine an album as I could ever have hoped to be a part of. Together Marian and I strove, as I always do, for both power and sensitivity, and for a display of artistry tempered by the artistry of restraint. It’s a serious piece of work, but it never takes itself too seriously, and at times it even has (unlike Fields Burning) a sense of, if not quite humor, then at least levity.
On Spirit House we refine the intimate chamber-folk sound for which we became known in our early live performances together—but we don’t stop there. Thanks to the help of some fantastic musicians (usual string suspects invoke, among others) and brilliant producer-engineer Mike Okusami, Marian I and are proud to share with the world a record of painstaking sonic detail and immense stylistic breadth.
As far as the album’s classical accents are concerned, the string quartet arrangements haven’t gone anywhere (listen to “Your Bower” and “Fourth Son”), but Spirit House also dabbles in the orchestral. This notably brass-heavy strain in the album begins with the symphonic swell in the first minute of the first track, “Even Magic Falters,” continues in the lush textures and sinuous melodies of “Ocean,” and reaches its explosive climax in the over-the-top, Mahlerian finale of “Calm Canary of the Arctic Sea.”
Elsewhere we move away from the influence of the Western canon and play as a rock band, such as in the metal-tinged psych-folk of “Will-o-the-Wisp,” and away from the folk genre altogether in the album’s most uncharacteristic tracks (which were also its two singles), the highly funky, perhaps even danceable “Kapunkah” and “Legend of the Neighborhood,” which owe more to Afro-pop and classic soul than to any British folk influence to which we’re often compared. For its part, “Alexander,” which includes only Marian and myself (on double bass), draws some on the collaboration between Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius on the album Hejira, while “Paint-chipped Windowsill,” the only song with Marian alone, makes for a quiet, dignified close to the whole extravaganza, bringing it all back to its origin — Marian’s voice, guitar, and poetic lyrics.
Yet for all its different sources of inspiration, Spirit House‘s greatest appeal lies, I think, in its originality. This or that song might bear the mark of one influence or another, but in the end it’s the album’s own unique vision that makes me so excited for everyone to hear it. And I got to play some 12-string guitar. So come to the once-postponed, much anticipated release show on Saturday November 21st at the Capital Fringe Theater in DC, where we’ll be performing the album with the whole ensemble that recorded it, and if you’re not in the area, stay tuned for 2016 tour dates. You can also learn more about the album from coverage at Folk Radio UK, The Vinyl District, NPR’s All Songs Considered, and our interview on the Chunky Glasses podcast.
As always, happy listening.