Feast of the Hunters' Moon
Artist: Black Prairie
Label: Sugar Hill Records
Time: 13 tracks/52 min.
Combining the talents of three members of the Decemberists with a couple of Portland musicians, Feast of the Hunters' Moon starts out with "Across the Black Prairie," a slow, haunting, moonlight dance with Death, and journeys through a hybrid landscape of bluegrass and gypsy musical menageries.
Only three of the thirteen songs have lyrics and vocals. Two others contain vocals, but mostly as a means to convey mood, and not to express any specific sentiment.
I prefer the instrumentals, not because the vocal selections are bad, but because when the classical, gypsy-jazz, bluegrass thing really gels, as it does on stand-out track "Ostinato Del Caminito," the Black Prairie clan tap into a world all their own - something with post-punk sensibility and old world charm.
The only two tunes that come close to the Sugar Hill style are "Back Alley" and "Home Made Lemonade," but, somewhere in the middle of the later jaunt, an accordion comes in, and, suddenly, you are transported to a cafe in Paris. You get the feeling that Black Prairie want to play it straight, but can't resist the urge to add a few of their own impressionistic brushstrokes to the Mona Lisa, and they are the better for it.
"Red Rocking Chair," one of the three vocal tracks, is striking in its clear and sparse instrumentation. A resigned, as opposed to sad, meditation on loss, it contains one strong gut-punch of a line: "I ain't got no use for your red rocking chair, now that the baby is gone."
"Crooked Little Heart," another vocal offering, is the sound of Patsy Cline, if she had been born 40 years later, sang an octave lower, and had as strong a love for Norah Jones, as she did for Hank Williams.
As I listen to "Tango Oscuro," I imagine a beautiful Argentinian dancer, with a single red rose clasped firmly in her lips as she stomps and struts, and a bunch of drunken Cossacks literally kicking up their heels, taking bets over who can balance the empty vodka bottle on their heads the longest.
The five members of Black Prairie play at the virtuoso level, but I am especially drawn to violinist Annalisa Tornfelt, who is equally adept at classical, jazz, and bluegrass styles, and commands a tone that is warm, fervid, and gritty.
The only complaint I can make about Feast of the Hunters' Moon , is its tendency to lose focus near the end. Nevertheless, this is a solid debut, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys inspired ensemble playing, and organic instrumentals.
Gary D. Kersey