House and Land - Across the Field - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

House and Land - Across the Field

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2019-06-14
House and Land - Across the Field
House and Land - Across the Field

King Crimson’s Robert Fripp said, “Everything is a microcosm of a macrocosm.” Well, this lovely folk record (with an Appalachian soul) pursues those minute seeds which gestate between the notes of these age-old tunes. Or, in their own words, "their music considers the space between notes as much as the notes themselves." And, oddly enough, those ancient breaths conjure a Hubble enhancement of the same starry night that has hovered, forever, over music, wonder, and ancient ritual.

A banjo is plucked.

And then the voices of Sarah Louise and Sally Anne Morgan touch the star-dust soil, and with harmonized complexity, find the pathway to simplicity. The tune is “Two Sisters,” which has been recorded by England’s Pentangle and Ireland’s Clannad. This is human tragedy stuff: One sibling kills the other for a shared love. It’s a song of deceit and betrayal: yet the melodic acoustic guitar is a counterbalance of ironic beauty. That Hubble deep space photo of nebula creation and destruction is captured in this daguerreotype tune (with a slight psych tint) that sings the human heart.

This song’s vocal harmonies, quite simply, come and go like ghosts who have finally found their freedom to do whatever they so desire.

And it’s odd. This is not prog rock, but the guitar echoes the plaintive almost done-like beauty of Popol Vuh (circa Das Hohelied Salomos) with its religious texture. Odd (again): the music of House and Land embraces the soil, and Popol Vuh circles the stars, yet they share some sort of helix that connects the micro and that macro of the musical universe.

Truly, this take on “Two Sisters” is a marvellous rendition of a spectral song that still sings its pain, its deceit, and its betrayal with a clarion poignancy, even in our sadly modern world. The tune is worth the price of admission to the movie (and the soundtrack) of life.

And the album stays the course of the melodic comet. “Rainbow ‘Mid Life’s Willows” bleeds with cuts to a butterfly soul. This one is patient. In fact, it’s very patient with a lovely guitar and vocal that soar to the heavens while a violin sings to the soil of the soul. The tune is pathos personified. “Cursed Soldier” gets really banjo-fueled with a vocal that recalls the great Shirley Collins, she of Anthems of Eden fame. In fact, this entire album is a cross-pollination of English songs who hitched a ride to Appalachia. The same is true for “Blacksmith,” a tune any lover of English folk music will be able to identify in (hopefully) five or fewer notes. That said, the vocal harmonies, again, are sublime, and delicate percussion adds to the solemn tone.

But (!) then there is the guitar and violin instrumental seven-minute-plus centerpiece of the album, “Carolina Lady.” And, speaking of Robert Fripp (again), it’s hard to imagine and even explain, but the delicate quietude of the interplay between the song’s instruments certainly recalls the hushed moments of spectacular beauty found within Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part I” and an improvised piece like “Trio” from Starless and Bible Black.

Now, I usually blame my English setter pup Willamena for just about everything; but the culprit, here, is probably none other than Ralph Vaughan Williams (Of Lark Ascending fame), who collected British folk tunes like the before-mentioned “Blacksmith,” and often incorporated those melodies into his compositions. And, Crimson’s own song with Lark in its title does bear an eerie echo of Williams’ piano/violin duet, which by the way was inspired by the hymn-like verse by British poet George Meredith.

Thank goodness “Carolina Lady” is such a glorious bit of music, because with all the possible tags, even by modern computer standards, it just boggles the mind. But that, perhaps, is the point of this album.

By the way, any fan of The Civil Wars album Barton Hollow will follow this record into deeper folk tradition. And this album also has echoes of Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s Silly Sisters recordings.

Not only that, but a Shruti box (which is like a harmonium) is used to create a specter hummed drone throughout the record.

And then, with just cause, the banjo re-ignites the meter with “Precious Jewels.” This song jabs with folk punches, and once again, recalls the scarecrow autumnal tone of Shirley Collins, one of the truly great English folk singers. And the very same banjo plucks the haunted tune “Ca the Yowes,” which is a Scottish whiskey-aged tale of a shepherdess, the ewe or two, and of course, a shepherd lad. The rest, as they say, is always history.

This album parses time with a microtonal melodic touch. It sings to the heavens, yet it touches the loam of daily discourse. It’s folk music of the past that still pleasantly haunts all of us in a very present tense. Indeed, distant Eden still sings with its Anthems, and patient ears will always be ready to hear these voices. This is a beautiful album of ancient echoes, made new, over and over; and it once again, sings with those folky starry night breaths that have hovered, forever and a day, over wonderous nature, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ode to a lark, and ancient ritualistic melodies that still sing in our acoustic souls that stand as admiring microcosms that are somehow magically linked to the immense beauty of the very macrocosmic universe.

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