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Faun Fables - Transit Rider CD (album) cover


Faun Fables


Prog Folk

3.53 | 13 ratings

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4 stars Dawn McCarthy seems to have lost a little bit of her wanderlust over the past few years, possibly due to a combination of maturity and her blossoming relationship with musical partner Nils Frykdahl (Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). In fact, the two of them are expecting a little one soon and according to her mySpace site they’re seeking a place to settle down and raise a family. But this 2006 release celebrates an earlier part of her life when she left the more laid-back streets of Spokane, Washington for the streets (and in this case subways) of New York City.

‘The Transit Rider’ was originally a theater production which showed in San Francisco in 2002, but McCarthy and Frykdahl further developed the poems and musical pieces with the help of family and friends in the ensuing years, and in 2006 released this quaint little digipack of character sketches and reinterpreted cover tunes. Not all the songs on the album come from the stage show, and some of them only relate to traveling the New York subway in the most abstract terms. But this is quintessential Faun Fables, and it wouldn’t be that unless there were a few oddities included to enhance (and deviate from) the central theme.

This album is nowhere near as dark and gothlike as her previous two (‘Family Album’ and ‘Mother Twilight’). Musically it’s a bit more like the collection of her early works, with plenty of nuances that hint at Appalachian, Baltic, polka and French folk traditions. At the same time McCarthy has this sort of otherworldly sense about her that hearkens back to eighties lipstick goth bands like Dead Can Dance, and the combination can be both seductive and surprising.

The subway tracks all tell little vignettes of various characters who ride about the rails with their anonymous stories being revealed in McCarthy’s imagination as manifested by her music. “Transit Rider Theme” sets the stage with a view of the narrator herself, vulnerable in the cold tunnels but with no alternative for getting where she needs to go.

Some of the other theatrical tracks show clear evidence they were developed for the stage and not for the studio. Frykdahl’s vocals and mannerisms tend to be way over-the-top and exaggerated, much in the way stage actors are wont to be. McCarthy succumbs to this as well, but not nearly as wholly as Frykdahl does. “In Speed”, “The Questioning” and “Dream on a Train” all fall into this category.

“Fire & Castration” wins the award for the most bizarre prog folk song title ever, although musically it’s much tamer than the name would lead you to believe. Frykdahl’s vocals here are more in the vein of his work with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum than the stage songs; and in the liner notes he dedicates the tune to his late brother Per (aka Ward C. Picnic).

The album is actually replete with tributes. “Earth’s Kiss” was co-written by McCarthy and her mother Michelina Tyrie and is dedicated to their late neighbor Lee Stockmyer; while “I’d Like to Be” is an homage to the late Soeur Sourire (aka ‘The Singing Nun’). This one is actually a translation of a 1963 French-language song entitled “Je Voudrais” from the Belgium ex-nun, who committed suicide in 1985 along with her lover.

A couple more covers show up on the album as well. There’s the languid and metaphysical “Taki Pejzaz (Such a Landscape)” which laments trees that cannot communicate and is a translation of a song by Polish musician Zygmunt Konieczny, which itself was adopted from a poem by Antoni Szmidt and previously made popular by Polish cabaret singer Ewa Demarzcyck. There’s a little polka thread running through this one in case you hadn’t discerned that already.

And finally there is a rendition of the traditional Anglo-Saxon fable “House Carpenter” in which McCarthy, as she did twice in ‘Family Album’, dredges up the tale of a wanton woman who in this case abandons her young child and new husband for a former lover, only to discover he is a demon when he intentionally scuttles the ship they have embarked on and sends both of them to Davy Jones’ locker. On this count McCarthy has some of the same literary sensibilities and stage presence as Decemberists’ lead man Colin Meloy, and fans of that band will likely take to this one for a lot of the same reasons.

There’s plenty more here to sink your musical teeth into, and I’m finding new things to ponder, listen to and research every time I play it. These are the kinds of albums that dreamers adore and jaded critics pan, so I suppose you should figure out where you lie and decide whether this is the kind of thing you’re likely to find appealing. For me this one is as endearing as ‘Family Album’, and less depressing than ‘Mother Twilight’. So on that note I’m going with four stars and a high recommendation for most prog folk and classical literature fans. Both types of folk will probably enjoy ‘The Transit Rider’.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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