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FAUN FABLES

Prog Folk • United States


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Faun Fables biography
Duo consisting of singer-songwriter Dawn McCarthy (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and guitarist Nils Fryfdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (second vocals and almost the rest of the instruments) who develop a world of their own, based on the folk myths and their rock roots. This gives a strange kind of folk rock that is quite weird and inventive and certainly fits in the Wyrd Folk realm. Claiming their influences in 70's folk like Perhacs, the Roche Sister, Art Bears, theatre music hall tradition and 70's UK folk rock, FF is a truly unique experience as their theatre work gives them an edge that few other groups have.

Dawn McCarthy is a northern pacific native that travelled all over the States including a stint in NY working with experimental theatre, then met up with Nyls (who had a similar background) then relocated in California and released the four Faun Fable albums (so far), compiled from works dating as far back as 93. Nyls Frykdahl is also known from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

Off the wall lyrics and bizarre melodies, their strange world oscillates between the strange eerie RIO sides of News From Babel (of Transit Riders) to the conventional singer-songwriter of their debut album, the whole thing fitting quite well in the Wyrd Folk mould that FF have contributed to develop in the last decade.


Bio written by Hugues Chantraine, Belgium.

Faun Fables official website

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Buy FAUN FABLES Music


Light of a Vaster DarkLight of a Vaster Dark
Drag City 2010
Audio CD$13.79
$8.50 (used)
Family AlbumFamily Album
Drag City 2004
Audio CD$13.88
$5.95 (used)
Early SongEarly Song
Drag City 2004
Audio CD$12.09
$4.92 (used)
Mother TwilightMother Twilight
Drag City 2004
Audio CD$65.50
$10.21 (used)
Transit RiderTransit Rider
Drag City 2006
Audio CD$8.98
$3.38 (used)
Table ForgottenTable Forgotten
EP
Drag City 2008
Audio CD$4.77
$2.49 (used)
light of a vaster LPlight of a vaster LP
DRAG CITY
Vinyl$18.00 (used)
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FAUN FABLES discography


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FAUN FABLES top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.04 | 7 ratings
Early Song
1999
3.95 | 9 ratings
Mother Twilight
2001
3.59 | 8 ratings
Family Album
2004
3.49 | 11 ratings
Transit Rider
2006
3.97 | 7 ratings
Light Of A Vaster Dark
2010

FAUN FABLES Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

FAUN FABLES Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

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FAUN FABLES Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
A Table Forgotten
2008

FAUN FABLES Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Light Of A Vaster Dark by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.97 | 7 ratings

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Light Of A Vaster Dark
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by siLLy puPPy
Prog Reviewer

4 stars FAUN FABLES is a duo from Oakland, CA, USA composed of singer-songwriter Dawn McCarthy and her life partner Nils Fryfdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. No avant-garde metal to be found here though. This is pure psychedelic folk and art rock from beginning to end. This kinda reminds me of what a chamber rock band might sound like if they tried to write beautiful haunting and melodic folk songs because of the richness of many instruments on the album. Dawn sings and plays acoustic guitars and Nils also plays guitar while the remaining violin, percussion, clarinet, flute and harmonica are covered by line-up musicians.

The album is very dark and melodic. The songs for the most part are extremely well written and catchy but have unexpected twists and turns that always sound well integrated into the sound. Lyrics are quite disparate ranging from tracks like 'Housekeeper,' honoring domestic servants to Christmas inspired themes as in 'O Mary.' I find this very addictive. Some tracks stand out more than others but after repeated listens many more start to sink in. Although this album is a little uneven with my favorite tracks being towards the beginning, there are enough strong tracks to recommend this as a unique dark folk experience.

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 Mother Twilight  by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2001
3.95 | 9 ratings

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Mother Twilight
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by Glimmung

4 stars This is an amazing album. As a huge fan of Comus and on the ever quest to find something else similar thanks to this site I finally found that. While in no way shape or form is Faun Fables a copy of Comus its that they are very evocative of that organic pagan sound. These bands to me exist in the same universe when i'm listening as they both bring about the feelings of the occult and living in the forest, which I absolutely love. But that is where the comparisons end. The voice of Dawn McCarthy is haunting and soothing at the same time as if some benign witch is singing to you all while simple acoustic chords strum lightly underneath. While I do think this album drags on a bit to long it does have several great songs spread through out for a consistency that brings everything together.This album is a truly pleasing experience and any fan of folk of any kind should really enjoy this album.

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 Light Of A Vaster Dark by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.97 | 7 ratings

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Light Of A Vaster Dark
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars I can already tell I'm going to have to revisit this review sometime down the road after I've had more time to get to know it. Faun Fables were like that from the beginning for me, the 'beginning' being when I first discovered them through their 2004 breakthrough 'Family Album'. Even for a freak folk fan these guys are a bit odd.

As with the first couple of albums this one has hints of Comus influence at times, meaning dark, moody arrangements, often gutteral vocal phrasing, and sometimes raw lyrics. Dawn McCarthy edged away from sound that in favor of slightly more widely palatable songs in the mid-nineties, but this seems to be a return to earlier form for her.

As with the 2008 EP 'A Table Forgotten' and even 'Family Album', McCarthy's songs tend to center around home, family and relationships more than the band's other albums. But that's to say they're idyllic or introspective like "Pictures" and "With Words & Cake" were. "Housekeeper" for example belies its title with strident instrumentation, McCarthy's trademark (and eerily beautiful) throaty vocals, as well as alternating playful and slightly morbid violin courtesy of Meredith Yayanos, who also played on 'A Table Forgotten'.

And speaking of Yayanos, her presence (ala violin) is felt more here than on any prior Faun Fables release. For the most part the increased emphasis on strings is a positive one, as Yayanos adds a depth and Eastern European flavor to the music that McCarthy and partner Nils Frykdahl hinted at on previous releases but never quite to this extent.

The percussion is also much more evolved on this album, calling to mind at times the early self-released disc 'Mother Twilight', but much more eclectic and omnipresent. "On the Open Plains" with its Kate Bush-like syncopated drumming circa 'The Dreaming', as well as the almost pagan-sounding "Hear the Grinder Creak" are the best examples.

One more great addition is Cornelius Boots with his bass clarinet (and sometimes flute). McCarthy included a smattering of trumpet and clarinet on 2006's 'Transit Rider', but other than Frykdahl's occasional flute playing this is the first time a wind instrument has been prominently featured.

I haven't formed a complete opinion of the album as a whole yet, although I will end this review by giving it four out of five stars simply because it's a Faun Fables album and it holds up early as well as anything else they've done to-date. But it doesn't grab me (yet) like all the rest did almost immediately after I first heard them. This one is more mature and complex, reflecting I suppose the growth of the band itself and of McCarthy and Frykdahl's personal and musical partnerships in particular. And for that reason I expect it'll take some time for 'Light of a Vaster Dark' to click. But I've no doubt whatsoever it will, and the disc will grace my CD changer in the coming months in anticipation of that moment. Well recommended even if you've never heard the band before.

peace

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 A Table Forgotten by FAUN FABLES album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2008
4.00 | 1 ratings

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A Table Forgotten
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

— First review of this album —
4 stars My favorite modern folk chanteuse is back, although she seems to have left the stage behind for the time being in exchange for a more pedestrian lifestyle. Dawn McCarthy and her partner Nils Frykdahl solicited feedback from fans on their website a while back, in search of a suitable community in which to raise the child they were planning to have. I don’t know the outcome and don’t want to surf around to find out, since somehow that strikes me as a bit invasive into their life and a little creepy to boot. Suffice to say I presume they found said home, and that said family is either in it, or on the way. The tenor of this EP suggests Ms. McCarthy is in a domestic state of mind these days.

The theme here grew out of an awareness Ms. McCarthy has developed of late. She said in a recent interview that she came to realize from discussions with some close friends of hers that too many of them had no strong family traditions, or fond memories of hearth and home. This actually gives a fair amount of credence to a personal conviction of mine regarding the connections of modern life, child day care and the growing sterility of family bonds; but that’s a rant for another day. It’s relevant to these songs though, so don’t get the idea it isn’t.

Anyway, McCarthy has apparently decided to issue this as the first in a series of vignette collections of wistful domestic poems set to music. This one has the feeling of entry, as if one is peering through the foyer of a home and past the sitting room into the kitchen and possibly out onto the back porch. Each of the four songs accompanies the listener a step at a time through this short journey. At least that’s my interpretation.

But Faun Fables are not your normal bucolic, flowery-meadow-and-babbling-brook folk singers. Their brand of folk is not that simple, convenient or digestible. Frykdahl’s contributions are an extension of the sound he formed as part of Idiot Flesh and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum; while McCarthy I suspect is the flower-power child of a couple of aged hippies who probably still have a working pottery wheel on their patio and have the first season of ‘Dharma & Greg’ on video. In fact, her mother performed on most of the previous Faun Fables albums and even co-wrote a song on one of them.

One track (“Winter Sleep”) was written by long-time Bj÷rk studio engineer Valgeir Sigur­sson, but the other three are McCarthy’s. Her lyrics are poetry, not narrative, and as such are abstract enough that they are both open to interpretation and difficult to derive much meaning from. The basic gist of “With Words and Cake” seems to be a sort of comforting hymn to wayward travelers, a slightly pagan- sounding chant beckoning lost souls to a brief but friendly respite from their wandering, among strangers who are nonetheless welcoming. McCarthy’s deep and throaty vocals accent the hand drums and haphazard percussion much in much the same way as on ‘Early Song’, a collection of her oldest works released for general consumption a few years ago. I suppose this is the hearth of the home.

“Pictures” is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard, although I’m not sure it was meant to be. The opening precarious strands of violin pretty much set the mood, followed by McCarthy’s soft and slow singing accompanied by the vocals of violinist Meredith Yayanos and harmoniumist (harmoniumer?) Kirana Peyton. As an aside, any album featuring someone by the name of Kirana instantly qualifies as a full-fledged, legitimate folk standard – no questions asked. This is a tribute to the snapshots of our lives – pictures, tilting precariously on walls and leaning against lamps and stuffed into drawers or pasted into dusty books. They tell the stories of our lives long after we’ve lived them, and in many case forgotten them. The pictures invite you in to share in the memories, but at the same time remind you of time lost where only paper and shadows of memory remain. Like I said – sad as hell.

The title track echoes a sentiment I’ve had myself, sitting at the kitchen table of our home where we’ve watched three sons grow from dribbling baby food down the sides to sharing hurried meals between school and childhood activities, to having serious and contemplative conversations about the weight of The Struggle and impending adulthood; to holding the photos and letters of young men grown and moved on to discover worlds of their own:

“O here they gathered, here they withered, here they thrived; where stories begin and stories survive…”

The closing “Winter Sleep” laments the coming dusk, the evening that brings with it dark but dynamic colors and sleepy thoughts. Here the harmonium, violin, drums, guitar and theremin combine with McCarthy’s unique vocals to issue a sound something akin to a forest sÚance. This is vintage Faun Fables, the crafting of someone else’s words and music as their own. A perfect ending to a brief but filling record.

Like I said at the beginning, I have a soft spot for Ms. McCarthy and Frykdahl and the cacophony they commit to tape every once and awhile. This stuff is not for everyone, but for those who have the capacity to get emotionally involved with the folk (aka, personal) aspects of music, the experience can be rewarding. Four stars once again for Faun Fables, and you can be assured this is as good as anything else they’ve done to-date.

peace

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 Mother Twilight  by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2001
3.95 | 9 ratings

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Mother Twilight
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars ‘Mother Twilight’ (along with ‘Early Song’) was released in the wake of Faun Fables’ well-received 2004 ‘Family Album’. While ‘Early Song’ was never officially released prior to the Drag City issue, ‘Mother Twilight’ was a hand-assembled, self-released work that Dawn McCarthy sold at her live shows between 2001 and 2003. Good luck finding one of those copies.

For some reason the Drag City version was released in a conventional jewel case instead of a more tasteful and more eco-friendly digipack like her other studio CDs ‘Family Album’ and ‘The Transit Rider’. That doesn’t affect the music in any way of course, but it is sort of interesting.

Like ‘Family Album’ the songs here are somewhat dark, although not really in a goth or depressing way. They’re more like pagan music at times, especially when McCarthy cuts loose with a (well- formed) howl or whistle, or when she contorts her deep, rich vocals to hit notes you’d typically expect out of an oboe or cello.

My favorite track is easily “Sleepwalker”, a song where she starts off rather masculine sounding before breaking into a soprano chant followed by a casual folk tune backed by acoustic guitar and autoharp, along with what sounds like a xylophone. McCarthy ends the song with a long vocal sustain followed by primal shouts and finally another verse of folk music before an abrupt ending. Everything about this some says it was carefully thought out and every note and nuance was introduced for specific effect.

Nils Frykdahl plays not only acoustic guitar and autoharp but also piccolo on “Hela”, another track where McCarthy indulges in what sounds like Nordic pagan chanting amid acoustic guitar and autoharp, while on “Traveller Returning” (misspelled on purpose in the liner notes) she and Frykdahl alternate vocals with stark acoustic guitar backing and not much else.

All the songs on the album are about traveling in one way or another, such as the theatrical “Train” which uses electric guitar and overdubbed vocals to simulate the thwack-thwack-thwack persistent rhythm of a rail train in motion; or the bizarre harmonizing spiritual “Beautiful Blade” which seems to be about ocean travel but I can’t be quite sure even after reading the lyrics. The title track reflects on various travels during which the twilight is observed from different locales, and is accented for a world feel by the piccolo and various percussive instruments. The most normal song is “Lightning Rods”, a fairly straightforward acoustic folk tune, but even here McCarthy’s unique vocal talents make it come off as more like indie-meets-world music.

“Catch Me” runs a close second to “Sleepwalker” for favorite tune. This one sounds a bit closer to the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum stuff Frykdahl does when not spending his time trying to keep the better half happy. Much of the percussion is uncredited but there is a lot of it, and also electric guitar and chopped, irregular timing and tempo shifts that make the music a bit difficult to follow but energizing nonetheless. The two songs are about as different as can be but somehow McCarthy makes them work together on the same album.

The album as a whole is less cohesive than ‘The Transit Rider’ or ‘Family Album’, both of which can claim to be theme albums to some degree. But maybe the lack of continuity in theme works to this record’s favor, as one doesn’t know what to expect from one track to the next, which makes for a sense of anticipation that concept albums sometimes lack. In any case I’m going to say this is a four star effort like her other two studio albums, and recommend it to the same sort of people. Enjoy.

peace

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 Transit Rider by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.49 | 11 ratings

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Transit Rider
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

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’.

peace

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 Early Song by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 1999
3.04 | 7 ratings

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Early Song
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

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.

peace

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 Family Album by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.59 | 8 ratings

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Family Album
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Here’s another band that had to gestate a while for me before really appreciating them. I have to admit my only interest in Faun Fables initially came from seeing them referred to as a modern ‘American acid folk band’. Turns out they are American, but none of the rest of those descriptors is completely accurate.

Faun Fables seems to consist of Dawn McCarthy and whoever else she feels like involving at different times. Nils Frykdahl (Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) is the one person she seems to feel like involving regularly. Otherwise it’s a mixed-bag of family and friends, so the term ‘band’ should be considered in a loose sense. And I wouldn’t call her music ‘acid folk’ either, although I can’t think of anything more or less accurate than that to describe it. In general, most of the basic tenants of folk are present anyway: storytelling lyrics; lots of acoustic sounds including some traditional instruments (glockenspiel, autoharp, flute, gamelan – uh, look it up); rather simple, basic arrangements but with the occasional odd meter or eyebrow-raising transition; and above all, a very personal look into the person making the music.

But beyond that Ms. McCarthy’s music seems to be a mixture of childhood memories communicated through the voice of adult musical sensibilities. She is no artistic slouch, having studied with principles of the American Conservatory Theater and Poland’s Gardzienice Theater, among others. And she clearly has learnt well the art of translating her thoughts into both music and physical expression, with her live performances being as much of a theatrical experience as they are a concert.

Despite the many things about the music that are unique, there are also a few resemblances that bear pointing out. Most striking for me is how much Ms. McCarthy’s vocals intonation reminds me of Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde (“Eyes of a Bird” and “Joshua” especially); while her primal forays are not unlike those of Kate Bush, and particularly circa ‘the Dreaming’. She doesn’t have Ms. Bush’s range (who does), but the combination of eclectic instrumentation, oddly metered arrangements and vocal contortions is quite similar (check out “A Mother and a Piano” and “Lucy Belle” for the best examples).

Another comparison comes in the form of Frykdahl, who I always thought channeled ‘Scary Monsters’- era David Bowie anyway, but he practically parrots him on “Lucy Belle”, “Still Here” and “Rising Din”. He also plays the majority of instruments on the album, by the way.

This album consists of a series of vignettes about families (or at least for the most part it does), and presumably the McCarthy family in particular, although who knows for sure. There’s a requiem for a departed son (“Joshua”), a child’s fantasy (“Nop of Time”), and an oddly dark spiritual family portrait (“Eyes of a Bird”), which is also the most ranging and ambitious track on the album.

But other songs are most abstractly related to the album’s central theme, including the disjointed and adapted Brigitte Fontaine cover “Eternal”, and a “Carousel with Madonnas” cover of a sixties Polish waltz written by someone named Zygmunta Koniezcyniego (talk about obscure).

There’s a fair amount of artistic hedonism here, but after a while it sorts of grows on you, and at least for me the opportunity to wallow in some of Ms. McCarthy’s musical self-indulgences and dark aural fantasies is a nice respite from an even darker and less fanciful reality. I’m not saying you’ll want to go hug a unicorn after listening to this or anything, but it’s a fun album anyway.

Not everything works equally well. The faux spiritual “Higher” (with church organ backing courtesy of Ms. McCarthy’s mother Michelina Tyrie and McCarthy’s own Kate Bush-like soprano primal screams) isn’t for everyone, although I have to admit it brought a smile to my lips the first time I heard it. This one is kind of like a chick flick or a George Michael album though – you know you shouldn’t like it and don’t want to be forced to endure it, but you probably won’t skip past it on the CD either.

The novelty wears a bit thin at times, especially towards the end of the album where “Eternal” sounds more like a Martha & the Muffins dance/trance track, and “Mouse Song” which isn’t much more than an afterthought. And the closing “Old and Light” is a pretty disorganized closing to an album that isn’t very neat or tidy to begin with. But all in all Dawn McCarthy and friends have put together an hour of rather unique music that is well worth the investment of time it takes to absorb all of it. In fact, this is the only Faun Fables CD I own but based on the strength of this one I just moved her other three to the top of my wish list and ordered them this morning. I don’t know exactly what can be expected from those, but this one will almost certainly be at least somewhat appealing to fans of modern folk music and avant-garde, multidiscipline expressionist art. I’m going to go with four stars for ‘Family Album’, and am looking forward to the others arriving in the mail soon.

peace

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 Family Album by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.59 | 8 ratings

BUY
Family Album
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

Third album (chronologically speaking, but not so sure it isn't the second release) of FF, but this is the album that brought them to the spotlight (all things relative, of course), and indeed it is a solid step forward from the debut early songs and its follow-up, which I haven't heard. Based on a concept around, you guessed it, family, this album is a huge improvement, as Dawn McCarthy develops her weird and eerie wonderworld, with all of her angst hanging out in the wide open, exposed for everyone to see. An extremely personal and intimate album, but this is not always a quality, because some of the moods exposed might have been better kept private, IMHO. The conceptual booklet, unless you are completely compelled to McCarthy's universe, will not entice you to get into the weirdness of her family's exploits

The album starts rather extremely well with a haunting Eyes Of A Bird (one of the stronger moments of the album) where the tracks find an acoustic guitar picking groove and the flute complements McCarthy's plaintive and haunting vocals. The lenghty opener overstays a bit its welcome, but compensate with some tremendous ghastly and loony vocalizings. Maintaining a good level, Poem 2 is another eerie song accompanied by a 12-string guitar and chimes, segueing surreptitiously into Mother And Piano, but by the end of that track it is clear that the formula is over-exploited, and boredom/irritation is around the corner. Fortunately with Lady Belle, it is sung by her acolyte Frykdal and has more dynamic, but if you listen well, outside the arrangements, this track resembles much the previous ones. Joshua changes a bit by introducing a haunting cello to the Chinese flute, the track slowly crescendo-ing and having the album at its peak.

And unfortunately, it's all downhill from here on, with a child-sung Nop of Time and a hit-and-miss Still Here, where some real highs like some vocals reminding Peter Hammill's gut-wrenching vocals, but also the same guitar arpeggios since the start of the album, making it very repetitive by now. Higher is more of the same, and Carrousel being the last highlight of the album. And once she does change around the last quarter of the album, many ideas are poor, such as an old-timer sounding track Rising Din, the falsely wild Fear March (arranged to sound creepy ala Comus meeting medieval, but not succeeding) and the frantic Eternal. The end of the album even becomes painful and by the time McCarthy gets some real goofy ideas like a dumb yodelling Mouse Song (she will repeat this hideous idea on their next album) and fishtail-ending the album ion a non-track, bringing us back to the front cover of the family album.

All things consider, FF's FA is a flawed interesting album: rather unenthusing family concept, excellent start, but abusing the good ideas by overstaying their welcome to the listeners, and when finally realizing it needs a change, starting well, but quickly losing it the plot and ending in a cringey and awful manner. Although one 60 minutes-long, the album seems to last at least twice that length, partly due to the repetitive arpeggios track, then a succession of failed ideas. Better start with the next album.

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 Transit Rider by FAUN FABLES album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.49 | 11 ratings

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Transit Rider
Faun Fables Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

FF's latest album is a weird concept album of Dawn McCarthy's experiences in the subways and trains (and the its side world or stations and corridors) of America and was worked into a theatre show in 02. This nice digipack with an inspiring outside na´ve green artwork and an eerie urban photo on the inside is a mix of this theatre play evolution (the duo-written sung pieces), a bunch or train- related bruitage/tapes, mixed with a bunch of covers, ranging from the trad House Carpenter to the Belgian Soeur Sourire (wonder how on earth she ever heard of this embarrassing drivel) and a few original tracks written with the McCarthy family.

The duo gets some help from a few guest musos, but overall and once more they get the huge majority themselves. Flute, vibraphone, trumpet, violin, cello, clarinet and glockenspiel also make the odd appearances, as well as SGM's Rathburn's bass. From the albums I heard so far, this is truly their most adventurous and maybe the first to truly deserve their inclusion on this site. Indeed their Wyrd/pagan folk rock is definitely taking a progressive twist (already hinted with their previous release), but this is mostly due to its strangeitude than the usual prog traits: complex arrangements, lengthy instrumental play etc. you'll find few or none of these here. But you will find a sometimes-delicious folk rock realm that most of the progheads like, even sounding at times like Woven Hands, the 16 Horsepower offshoot. Vocally Dawn sounds like Dagmar Krause and Robert Wyatt's daughter and her vocal duet with Nyl's voice makes a good duo of folk voices, much like in the glory days.

This album is definitely the duo's better album (as far as a proghead can be concerned) and its disturbing eerie aura will intrigue a few gothic music fans as well as the usual Wyrdheads. Not far away for being essential, especially those with "folk" affinities, this is the kind of album that cannot be played anytime and anywhere. It really does take its sweet time to sink in and once it does, even then this will not be a regular anytime spin.

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