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Faun Fables - Early Song CD (album) cover


Faun Fables


Prog Folk

3.04 | 7 ratings

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3 stars This is technically the debut Faun Fables album, but it was first issued informally and didn't see an official release until Drag City put it out following the success of their 'Family Album' CD. This is basically a collection of songs Dawn McCarthy recorded, mostly in 1999, but some date back to 1994. Half are original compositions, while the rest are old, traditional Americana tunes included two that were captured live: "Honey Babe Blues" at a show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and "O Death" recorded in Berkeley, California.

McCarthy performed mostly as a solo artist in her early career (usually under the nom de plume 'Dawn the Faun'), and her repertoire consisted of songs that were more plain, stark and acoustic then what she would put out under the Faun Fables name. Everything on this album fits that description, from the Depression-era Appalachian lament "Only a Miner" to the earthy self-penned "Apple Trees" (misspelled "Apples Trees" in the liner notes).

The instrumentation consists mostly of McCarthy and Nils Frykdahl's acoustic guitars, Kona (Hawaii) Symphony Orchestra cellist Samantha Black, and lap steel guitarist Mark Orton (Tin Hat Trio). Rob Burger (Bill Frisell Band) plays pump organ and chamberlin sporadically, and Dropsy (can't explain - look it up) vibraphonist (vibraphoner?) David Cooper is credited as well, but it's difficult to figure out just where he is actually playing on the album.

This isn't what I'd call either progressive or even folk music really. Americana is the closest description that comes to mind, and as such it will likely only appeal to a select audience; primarily old folks and the kind of people who wear hemp clothing and take their green tea outdoors at the coffee shop.

Frykdahl is much less prominent than on any other Faun Fables album, and this is clearly a McCarthy solo recording where the rest of the musicians are along as trifling accompaniment. McCarthy seems to be working out the wide range of vocal sounds she would employ in the coming years on her other albums and theatrical shows. There is very little of the thespian tendencies she displays later in her career, mostly I suppose because these songs were written and recorded when she was still pretty much just another open-mic-night acoustic crooner. There's a certain charm to the original recordings, but some of the traditional covers tend toward over-indulgence, such as on "Honey Baby Blues" where she attempts (but doesn't quite achieve) a black southern accent; or with "Only a Miner" where she ends up producing a Kentucky hillbilly tone with a strong resemblance to the Maria McKee (Lone Justice) eighties tune "Only Once".

At times this music takes on the same sad, dusty road feel as bands like Wovenhand or maybe Emmylou Harris. Oh yeah - and there's a little bit of yodeling as well ("Ode to Rejection" - check it out). This stuff is not for everyone, for sure. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Dawn McCarthy has certainly had an interesting life to-date, traveling around the world and both studying under and performing with an eclectic and diverse number of theater and musical artists. The latter Faun Fables albums are a testament to those experiences and influences, and all three of them make for fascinating adventures in cultural and musical anthropology. This one does too, sort of, but the lack of instrumental variety and strong tendency toward deep-South musical mannerisms limit this record in a way her other work is not.

I think there's something here that some folk and American traditional music fans will find appealing, so it's a little better than just a collectors-only bit of work, but not by much. Three stars may be a tad bit generous, but as someone who was quickly won over as a fan shortly after hearing Ms. McCarthy for the first time, I can attest to the fact that this is pretty good music. Recommended if you like to dress in earth tones and sleep on flannel sheets, especially if those sheets are spread across a handmade wicker bed. You know who you are.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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