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The Decemberists - The Crane Wife CD (album) cover

THE CRANE WIFE

The Decemberists

 

Prog Folk

3.96 | 127 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars "The Crane Wife" shows a major progression over "Picaresque", pun intended. The compositions and arrangements have become much more ornate and just generally a lot less folky. That is not to say this is RIO or symphonic prog, since the folk influence is usually apparent, as is the indy rock element that provides such a refreshing change from our regular bill of fare.

On "Picaresque", I had opined that the band was most effective on their shorter material, regardless of where on the eclectic spectrum a particular contribution might fall. But on "The Crane Wife", the two longest tracks are so much more than just elongated sea shanties. Only one of them, "The Island", really impresses me but does it ever! This is a prog folk suite in a manner to embarass some of the bigger names of the genre. The first part, "Come and See", is introduced with dense instrumental excursions before the sung portion takes us on crescendoes from simply acoustic to layered textures of clanging guitars and insistent drums. The chorus is rivetting, and this section is a lengthy tune in its own right. Next comes the hypnotic almost minimalist backing of "Landlord's Daughter", with Meloy still leading the charge in a jig like fashion, but only until organs crash down over us. Stormy music indeed. Finally, the spellbinding "You'll not feel the drowning", with its ebbing and flowing verse and chorus and its unmistakeably ancient vibe.

The remaining shorter tracks show that the Decemberists can still handle the simple structures in compelling ways. "Yankee Bayonet" reminds me of the Pogues or Oysterband when they do duets with people like Christie MacColl. Again, the clanging guitars bring a breath of fresh aire to the proceedings. "Valencia" is another jolly romp with a singalong verse and chorus. If you have not heard the classic British folk rock group Lindisfarne, Decemberists are in this spirit. My favourite is the raunchy "When the War Came", which verges on heavy rock but yet remains in service of Meloy's uncanny melodic instincts. The mysterious keyboard touches can be picked up on the 2nd or 100th listen, and the chorus is an emotional fireball. Yet if some of these tunes are to the heavy side lyrically and musically, the Levellers or Proclaimers styled Summersong brings us back to familiar territory, another acoustic oriented intellectual foray. So the missteps of the boring "Shankill Butchers" and the anticlimatctic "Sons and Daughters" are readily forgiven.

This group is for real, and while I still think they lurk on the margins of prog, I no longer have a problem with their inclusion, even if their forerunners would get the same treatment.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |

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