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Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp - The Use of Ashes CD (album) cover

THE USE OF ASHES

Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp

 

Prog Folk

4.26 | 24 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars I honestly don't even remember how I first heard about this album; I suspect it was one of those passing comments in the forum that I just happened to look into. In this case, it was certainly a lucky thing for me that I did, as "The Use of Ashes" is one of those rare albums that I enjoy not only while I'm listening but that I keep coming back to. Really a very special album and one that should be heard by any folk (and especially progressive folk) fan.

"The Jeweler" begins the album with some piano-accompanied vocals. Like most of the music on the album, the lyrics are the centerpiece, but the music certainly doesn't suffer as a result. The instrumentation is simultaneously simple and dense, with piano, bass, percussion and strings melding together to create an instrumental backtrack where any individual instrument is very hard to pick out because it works so well as a part of the whole. The vocal melody is very strong as well, with Tom Rapp's idiosyncratic, faintly lisping vocals adding a very unique feel to the music and helping to set up the atmosphere that will define the rest of the album- a very intimate, close kind of feel that invites the listener in.

"From The Movie Of The Same Name" is the only primarily instrumental track on the album, using a variety of strings, keyboards, wordless vocals and a flute to create a very stately, pastoral feel that manages to contain traces of both britpop and medieval-sounding folk, which is especially impressive considering the band was founded in Florida and the album was recorded in Nashville. Nonetheless, the blend of styles comes through, and though it's a short and slightly repetitive track it works very well in the album.

"Rocket Man" begins with some harpsichord and bass before Rapp's vocals come in, sounding quite a bit more world-weary than they did on "The Jeweler." Telling the story of man who's lamenting his father, a lost astronaut, the song utilizes a unique instrumentation (harpsichord, woodwinds, percussion and bass, primarily) along with some subtle female backing vocals to create an atmosphere that perfectly matches the somewhat somber mood of the lyrics.

"God Save The Child" begins a bit more bombastically, with winds and electric guitar giving the main melody and chorus a powerful feel that's juxtaposed with a more melancholic verse. Though Tom Rapp isn't a super-powered belter by any means, he's able to deliver his vocals with a kind of power that not many can.

"Song About A Rose" has a much darker, more psychedelic feel to it, with all the instruments again working together to create an atmosphere that's as much a complete sound unto itself as it is a combination of instruments. I really have to emphasize how well this album is arranged; in listening through it to review it I found it tremendously difficult to pick out exactly what was going into the instrumental parts because it all blended together so well. Pearls Before Swine really excel on this album at creating complete music instead of merely different parts playing together.

"Tell Me Why" juxtaposes bass and keyboards, along with some guitar and percussion, to create probably the most typical psych-folk song on the album. It's a very good song, but it definitely sounds more dated and slightly less mature than "The Jeweler" or "Rocket Man" do. It's a very enjoyable track, though, if only because it reminds the listener of the time this album was recorded in. Some very nice flute parts feature as well.

"Margery" begins in a very psychedelic, dreamy vein before before switching into a less floaty, more rhythmically grounded vocal melody that features what is perhaps Tom Rapp's best performance of the album, as well as one of the best-written vocal melodies. Featuring (as usual) exquisitely arranged music that highlights the lyrics without distracting from them, "Margery" blends an experimental attitude with classic folk influence to create a song that could pass as simple pop if one isn't listening carefully, but has a great deal of depth to it, which wouldn't be a bad way to describe the album as a whole.

"The Old Man" opts for a bit of a spookier atmosphere, both lyrically and musically. With somewhat arcane, psychedelic lyrics and music to match, it's almost haunting. This feel is certainly enhanced by the echoey production on Rapp's vocals and the use of both flute and cello as forefront melodic instruments. The whole effect is to give the song an ethereal, transcendent feel, and it definitely succeeds in doing so.

"Riegal" sees Tom and Elisabeth Rapp alternating vocal duties, as well as harmonizing, to tell the story of the sinking of a prison ship. Riegal features some of the best vocal melodies not just on this album but on any album, and with perfect instrumental arrangement to match I'd have to say it's my favorite song on the album and probably one of the better folk songs I've ever heard.

"When the War Began" begins with some somber acoustic guitar and bass, and when Tom Rapp begins singing the lyrics are appropriately ominous. Some understated but beautiful violin and flute melodies help make the track more colorful, though between the minor-key progressions and dark vocals it's easily one of the more melancholic songs on the album. A remarkably powerful performance from Tom Rapp rounds out the track, and closes the album off on a sweeping, grand note with more than a tinge of sorrow.

There are no songs on "The Use of Ashes" that will blow you away if you're just passively listening to it, but with careful listening the album reveals itself to have an incredible amount of depth, both in its lyrical content and its musical arrangements. This is an album that I can't help coming back to. There's just something special about how all the music comes together, rendering "The Use of Ashes" one of the most cohesive, listenable albums I've heard. Clocking in at only a little bit over a half hour, it's one of those albums that's very difficult to only listen to part of; it demands to be heard as a whole. Certainly an album that deserves more exposure then it gets.

4.5/5, rounded up

VanVanVan | 5/5 |

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