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The Decemberists - The Crane Wife CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.99 | 161 ratings

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4 stars The Decemberists.. a group I learned of during a very special time in my life. Asheville in the fall of 2006 when a wacky smartass American and a sweet precious beautiful Italian met for the first time in person and spent two weeks of absolute heaven together. During one of our regular search and destroy missions for albums I thumbed through a music magazine that had a article about a group from my hometown of Portland Oregon, The Decemberists. I had never heard of them but the article spoke of a fabulous group and album that people just had to hear. Raff and I had a chuckle over that... doesn't Classic Rock magazine say that in every issue about some group of dope smoking kids with dirty long hair, who srely have the rock and roll image nailed but whose music.. yawn.. and pfff. The magazine's description of the band though caught this jadded soul and I mentally filed this group away in my mind for future exploration.

fast forward several years... discovery by the prog-world and addition to this site's database thanks to Bob. I never forgot the group but always told myself I would get an album from them the next time I saw them. Well Raff and I finally navigated a lot of roadblocks and got our chance to have our life together. Part of our fun as a couple is continuing the tradition we sort of established in Asheville of raiding CD shops.. second hand or chain.. we don't discriminate. On a trip last month to the CD Cellar in Arlington we finally took the Decemberist plunge and somewhere in the course of the first listen, both her and I became instant fans of this group. The group has a new album coming out this month, trust me, some CD shop somewhere will have either that smartass American or beautiful Italian lady camped out waiting to get our hands on it. I highly recommend you check this group out. As any quick glance of my reviews here show, this is a kind of group that I would not normally give the time of day. It simply isn't the kind of music I normally listen to. That should give some indication of just how good it is. Another indication, most every review I have wrote has come from years of listening. This review is written more on impressions rather than 'knowing' the album inside and out. The album sort of inspires me to review it.

Like all the great classic prog albums, the journey with this album begins before you even put the album in your player. The CD sleeve is really a striking piece of work. Stark in simplicity yet completely effective in setting the mood for the album. Wonderful sketched pictures in dark colors give it a very Gothic feel. Especially effective were the drawings of the individual band members in early 20th century Edwardian clothes. Enough pratter though, what you care about is the music. What you will find on the album is some incredibly moving music. that sticks in your teeth and remains long after the album has been digested.

The album begins with a lovely number The Crane Wife 3 which is a relatively low-key musical number anchored by piano and acoustic guitar. Colin Meloy's vocal's might be a bit off-putting to prog traditionalists. He has a voice that some might immediately place as right out of an indie-alternative group. Pfff on that. His voice has wonderful range and a very strong presence and is perfect for this group's music. The Crane Wife 3 is a nice tune, nothing much to set the prog house on fire.. but ahhh.. the song segues into what hooked Raff and I completely on this album. The Island suite... a pure prog heaven of contrasting moods and musical changes. Led off by a catchy as hell instrumental opening with guitar with the organ doubling it which has your foot tapping until it suddenly drops out into an acoustic and vocal section. The piece shifts tempos and moods through Come and Lee, with the The Landlords Daughter we get to hear keyboardist Jenny Conlee take center stage on the Hammond Organ and Moog synthesizer. Great stuff indeed. The mood and pace change completely with the final section You'll Not Feel the Drowning. Acoustic primarily with Meloy's dark and depressing lyrics dominate this section. When you want to hit a musical mood of sadness of death.. what better instrument to whip out than the cello. A fabulous piece of music. The next song...Yankee Bayonet... that is why I am here writing this review tonight.. I'll be damned if I could NOT get this song out of my head today. This album was dinner music for Raff and I last night and this song... just.. pow.. right between the eyes. Played it 4 times straight and studied the lyrics in detail.. which being a fan of Italian prog.. is about as rare as me singing the praises of fucking Camel hahah. Lyrics usually mean nothing to me. This one ..grabbed me hard. A wonderful duet between Meloy and guest singer, Laura Veirs as lovers separated by the American Civil War. A subject I have a great deal of passion for personally. A catchy upbeat melody over which they 'converse' is perfect counterpoint to talking about the dead of Manassas. Wow... blown away. Isn't that why we listen to music.. we live for those moments.

A couple of songs follow, O Valencia and The Prefect Crime #2 follow that to me don't quite reach the incredible standards of the album to that point. Decent songs but in all fairness since this is a prog site. Marginally prog.. but still. pretty damn good music. When the War came follows though and is a bit heavier and aggresive in sound that what we have heard so far. The electric guitar is more prominent here with some interesting synth work by Conlee. A real nice stylistic change-up thrown by the group. Shankill Butchers comes up next and here we go 180 degrees in another direction get a dark,haunting folksie number with intense imagery of bloody cleavers, whiskey and killing... yeah buddy... that is American Folk for you hahha. Fascinating piece of music. Very American Gothic. Summersong lightens the mood with imagery of watery graves, and dead sailors hahah. Delivered not with a catchy melody and wonderful vocal harmonies. This might not be your father's Folk-Prog of Jethro Tull hahah.. but in it's own American way.. it speaks very true to the American experience. Such beauty yet such an undertoe of violence and death. Yep. Whoever put the final tracklist for the album must have been dyslexic or some crap like that because The Crane Wife 1&2 comes up next. With the Island suite the musical bedrock of the album. The C.W. #1 has wonderfully evocative lyrics over a somber cello, sweeted by some tasteful Hammond Organ before the pace picks up and into a nice mid-tempo piece still anchored by the Hammond Organ. The C.W #2 is a perfect piece of folk-prog speaking of the marriage of the protagonist to his bride.. his Crane Wife. The band has thrown the musical kitchen sink into this piece with steel-pedal guitar, and seemingly every acoustic stringed instrument you can dream up. Love the glockenspiel in this. Very tasteful indeed. The album close with Sons & Daughters which is a hell of way to close the album. Gorgeous multi-part vocals with a real folksie sound and and feel that will have you singing along if you have a pulse. More tradtional instruments such as the banjo and dulcimer are evident in the instrumental mix along with the acordion. Excellent stuff.

Rating the album. Jeepers... now this IS a hard one to rate. As I alluded to in my opening. Pretty much all of my rankings and reviews have been given with the hindsight of years of listening and with the ability to compare the albums to past, and future works of the artist. Able to compare those with others to come up with what I would like to think of as a fairly objective rating. Seeing how Folk-Prog is not my preferred style of music and have only recently through Raff really made any attempt to listen to it. I find it hard to rate the album. Some thoughts though. Listening to this album, I can really see.. and understand that some will not be impressed by this album. Colin Meloy's vocals are not distinctively prog, he doesn't sing with an Engish accent and years of being assaulted by musically inferior groups that have vocalists similar to his style may trip-up the musically quick to judge. However within this album is some rather interesting and touching progressive folk music. I highly recommend this album to those who are open-minded to their prog. If you don't equate great music with prog.. oh hell.. get this album. Now. However if you are more ..conservative in your prog tastes, you will find large sections of it here, but after such a glowing review as I have give, you probably will be disappointed. For the site.. 4 stars. Since I first wrote the review I have explored the group further and have found albums I enjoyed as much, but for this site this album of their first 4 studio albums is the album that might connect most with the prog fan. For myself ..personally.. 5 stars... this is a keeper. As I said in a post recently.. an album WELL on it's way to being burned into my musical psyche. I must add though... I love prog.. but I'm not a prog-head. I just love great music.. and I love this album and couldn't have cared less if one wants to call them prog or not.

Michael (aka Micky)

micky | 4/5 |


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