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PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP

Prog Folk • United States


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Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp biography
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE (Melbourne, Florida, USA) is the band formed by folk singer, guitar-player and songwriter Tom RAPP and some of his high school friends. Though RAPP would remain the only standing member of the band over the years, this first line-up can be attributed with the first two albums, "One Nation Underground" (1967) and "Balaklava" (1968), on which PEARLS BEFORE SWINE can be described as a psychedelic and progressive folk group. Both albums were released by ESP. After this Tom RAPP would continue to record milder folk records under the PEARLS BEFORE SWINE flag with a diversity of studio musicians until dropping the bandname in 1973. He then delivered another three albums under his own name (these are also included on this page) before becoming a civil rights lawyer. In 1999 Tom RAPP would return with another solo album.

RAPP would eventually become a cult-idol because of his mystical and political songwriting and his emotionally driven, folky and almost whimsical (in a good way) vocal performances.

I
The first line-up of PEARLS BEFORE SWINE consisted of Tom RAPP, Wayne HARLEY, Lane LEDERER and Roger CRISSINGER. Together they would record the classic "One Nation Underground" (1967), a psychedelic folk album with some heavy edges, psychedelic moods, political lyrics and mystical folk songs. The album sold a reasonable 250.000 copies, but due to lack of proper management the band would not profit very much from this. In 1968 the band would re-emerge with again RAPP, CRISSINGER and LEDERER, this time joined by Jim BOHANNON and some guest musicians in the studio. "Balaklava" (1968) would be their most progressive effort with a continuation in style, but with a more daring approach with psychedelic sound-effects, symphonic arrangements and a dark ending song based on the 'The Lord of the Rings'.

II
On the third album "These Things Too" (1969) the band's line up changed significantly. RAPP would be joined by his wife (of Dutch origin) Elisabeth, Wayne HARLEY, Jim FAIRS as well as some studio musicians. This album would be their first album on the Reprise label, but unfortunately the recording quality was rather poor. Mainly for this reason this album is perceived as the lesser PEARLS BEFORE SWINE ALBUM.

III
In 1970 RAPP and his wife, like so many other folk and rock acts of that period, traveled to Nashville to record "The Use of Ashes" supported by long list of local studio musicians. The sound changed to t...
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PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.37 | 16 ratings
One Nation Underground
1967
3.96 | 19 ratings
Balaklava
1968
2.80 | 13 ratings
These Things Too
1969
4.26 | 24 ratings
The Use of Ashes
1970
3.02 | 9 ratings
City Of Gold (AKA The Nashville Album)
1971
3.65 | 9 ratings
.... Beautiful Lies You Could Live In
1972
3.00 | 2 ratings
Tom Rapp (AKA Familiar Songs)
1972
3.05 | 2 ratings
Stardancer
1972
3.00 | 1 ratings
Sunforest
1973
2.10 | 2 ratings
Journal of the Plague Years
2000

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

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3.00 | 1 ratings
The Wizard of Is
2004

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Sunforest by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.00 | 1 ratings

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Sunforest
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

— First review of this album —
3 stars Recorded at the same time in Nashville and with roughly the same personnel (whoever in that scene was present in the studios, apparently) as his previous album, Stardancer, Sinforest is a bit different, partly due to the Aphex audio processing system. Personally, I'd be hard pressed to explain the difference, but apparently the professional spotted it immediately. This album was to be Rapp's last one for three decades, but unlike its predecessor, he made sure that the Pearls Before Swine name was appearing on the front artwork (the pink badge on the hat)

If sonically different (let's admit it), in these ears, it's mostly in terms of the track list. SD was had a few covers, SF is all original songs, but some are reminiscent of the other release, like the album-opening track Coming Back and its Caribbean percussions. The short following Prayer Of Action is apparently an inspiring track for many people, and it comes with string arrangements. Things get a little deeper with the sombre Forbidden City, with hypnotizing climates reminiscent of Balaklava or Use Of Ashes. Rapp answers a Stephen Stills preoccupation in the following Love/Sex song, and Harding Street seems to be inspired from Leonard Cohen.

Opening the flipside, Blind River is a quiet but mesmerizing ambiance, where flutes and bowed bass make up the background of the intro, before the song slowly picks up momentum via percussions and string arrangements. The following Some Place To Belong is an up-tempo affair where an organ hold the centre stage with fast percussion and Tom's guitar. The title track is again looking backwards to the PBS's earlier albums' ambiances, but with a Cohen vocal delivery. The closing Sunshine & Charles is the least interesting track of the album.

Both SD and SF have received Cherrty Red records reissues with some interesting liner notes, but none are essential in Rapp's PBS discography, though there are three worthy songs on each. In the present case, Forbidden City, Blind River and Sunforest are the better ones, and compared to SD, thankfully, there are no obvious Nashville influences, and that tilts the balance in SF's favour.

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 Journal of the Plague Years by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 2000
2.10 | 2 ratings

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Journal of the Plague Years
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

2 stars As Tom Rapp more or less retired from the music scene during the second half of the 70's to become a Civil Rights lawyer, he became more or less forgotten for the mainstream. So I guess it must've been a solid surprise for those who remembered fondly the early albums of Pearls Before Swine to hear from Tom Rapp returning with an album after the millennium., even though he chose his name rather than his old group's name. A good decision given that this is more of a solo effort than a group one. I'm not sure why the man chose to come back to music, whether pushed by the nostalgia or envy of music, but I believe I'm not the only one to find his return very disappointing.

Behind this very conceptual album title and artwork, one could expect a series of songs that are at least related in lyrics and contents. I personally detected nothing of the sort (not even a title track), and to be honest, the very diminutive package is hardly any help, not even giving the line-up playing on the album. And the proghead won't find much more interest in the songs selected on the disc. The album opens on an old timer (and incredibly boring) a capela track (Silver Apples) that chills the enthusiasm? Following tracks don't really fare much better, but at least there are instruments, but nothing of much interest, except for the odd orchestral arrangements. BTW, while the album is more folk than country, the usual Dylan influences are not always as immediately obvious as in his mid-70's albums, but they're still around.

Would you believe that the more interesting track is the closing live monologue, worthy of the best stand-up comedians, where Tom Rapp reminisces on the 60's drug and recording days. Indeed, in front of a very accepting public, he tells us of a few hilarious anecdotes about the ESP/Elektra studio days that sound like personal experiences, not second-hand. While really funny (the man is a gifted raconteur), it's simply not enough to warrant investing in this kind of album.

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 City Of Gold (AKA The Nashville Album) by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.02 | 9 ratings

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City Of Gold (AKA The Nashville Album)
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

2 stars Maybe the most special PBS/TR album, since each side of the album had its own dedicated face, but if you're paying attention, it's not Tom on the sleeve, but "Thos" Rapp credited. But even then, I can't be totally positive this is a dual affair, and it doesn't sound schizophrenic either. The A-side is certainly very country-esque, not too far away from what Dylan would do with Nashville Skyline (this is where half the album was recorded), but it's not the flipside would be any less, except maybe for the opening cover of Jacques Brel's Le Moribond (translated in Seasons In The Sun), but then again, it only echoes the sad Raindrops (where Thom's wife sings as well) and Cohen's Nancy. The only real saving grace for this album is the all-too-short and chilling Wedding. The abum's musicians are dominated by Charles McCoy that plays, bass, guitar, harmonica and dobro, but once again, the PBS touring line-up is nowhere to be found on this album. Best avoided if you're looking for prog folk or folk- prog or even psych-folk.

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 Stardancer by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.05 | 2 ratings

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Stardancer
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars Although released under his own name, Stardancer deserves the PBS moniker (it was his new Blue Thumb label that decided against it), if only for the logical musical continuity of what came before. Of course it had been a while since the bnd had stopped having a stable studio line-up, even if its touring version had a semblance of stability. Sure, by this time, the superb psych/prog folk of the first two albums and Use Of Ashes was long-gone, but we can still find a few trace in the course of Stardancer, well hidden under the fairly wide-ranging songs that grace this album. Strangely enough, it appears that the Cherry Red CD reissue reverses the side playing order as opposed to the original vinyl, so I will tell you I reviewed the album in its CD form

Among the better prog-folk songs is the opening title track, which grows out of chimes into a soft guitar and a very personal complaint. Sweet flutes, hypnotizing cellos, windy cymbals and haunting melodies are what make this song magic. However the spell is broken with the awkward Marshall ditty filled with Caribbean percussions. The following Why Should I Care sounds like a goofy 40's Music Hall thing with an insufferable twangy/country/jazz feel. Touch Tripping and the French-sung Las Ans (sounding like n Eleanor Rigby version) closes the A/B side. The flipside opens on the poignant (and album- proggiest) Fourth Day Of July with plenty or eeriness and dramatics to boot. The Dylan-esque For The Dead In Space is present a semi-folk ambiance in its first part and a semi-country feel in its second half. The country-esque Baptist is definitely not up my alley, but I can understand why this song might gather a lot of support, but it overstays its welcome to my ears. Summer Of 55 features some rapid- fire percussions and some sax and other horns, while the closing goofy Tiny Song goes nuts.

Although SD is hardly as good as an early PBS album, there are a few outstanding tracks (three actually) that make it investigable and certainly worth considering investing in it. But I would consider not doing so either, because the album lacks a clear musical direction, because of its all-too-wide spectrum and therefore the hole lacks cohesion.

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 The Use of Ashes by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.26 | 24 ratings

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The Use of Ashes
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

4 stars I've been reading a book by a sassy fashionista who cues his entry into full reminiscence mode with the expression "Let's dial back". When approaching long past nascent progressive folk that one never had the privilege to hear in its initial run, one would do well to dial back for two reasons. First, cliches may be exploited that were not cliches in their day, so one should step softly into such critiques even while acknowledging the unfashionable traits. Second, one cannot always expect to be wowed by defiant prog just because exhibit A hails from that era. Lots else was going on at the time, and audacious fervour could take many forms, especially where folk influenced music was concerned. In so dialing back, one is left as open to an album's authenticity as if one was truly present on the original release date.

By all accounts, TOM RAPP's PEARLS BEFOR SWINE released several generally unnoticed works, the best of these being "The Use of Ashes". Listen a few times, and delicacy of voice and poetic muse will be manifest, as well as a world weariness that one can't manufacture in a studio. A less depressive NICK DRAKE might be an apt reference point. The largely acoustic guitar and string accompaniment is elegantly assuaged by keyboard arrangements and woodwinds, especially whiffs of harpsichord, and the melodies take a number in one's memory queue. "Rocket Man" is especially poignant in its recounting, a timeless melody and vulnerable lyrics that can reach anyone who has worried for a loved one and felt helpless at some of their life decisions. "The Old Man" incorporates English folk influences as successfully as the late JACK HARDY ever did, while "The Riegel" pairs SIMON AND GARFUNKEL's harmonies with a historical insight and profound respect a la KINGSTON TRIO. In contrast, "When the War Began" shuffles along without drawing in the listener, and, "God Save the Child" insists upon itself in its post-Dylanesque entreaties, although to my ears it sounds even more like a lost post-prime GUESS WHO hit.

"The Use of Ashes" is a simply lovely album of worldly American folk rock with psychedelic and progressive hues and among the most elegantly economical arrangements I have yet heard. If not for a few mediocre cuts, it would merit 5 stars. Highly recommended for the hearth.

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 These Things Too by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1969
2.80 | 13 ratings

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These Things Too
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by the philosopher

3 stars "These Things too" is a transitional record between the psychedelic/obscure folk period of Pearls Before Swine and the symphonic folk period. The cover is less impressive then on the earlier recordings and the album title suggests that we have to deal with recordings that didn't fit on the earlier recordings or are 2nd rate material. This album may not be Pearls Before Swine's most appreciated record; there are still some gems on it however and should not be skipped by fans of the surrounding works.

There is a great change in sound in comparison with the previous obscure Balaklava record. The addition of a piano and some more traditional singer/song writer material makes this record less interesting, but I must admit I'm still very impressed by about the halve of the songs which do remind me of the great Balaklava. Tom Rapp enters different new territory with a French chanson (Mon Amour), woman backin' vocals (Man in the Tree) and country music (If you don't want to (...)). Like on Balaklava there is one cover song on the record. This time its a Bob Dylan track (I shall be released), which I find one of the weaker tracks of the record. There are two versions of "Frog on the window" on the record: the first one is a psychedelic one and the other an more Spanish/ Greek influcenced one.

Both sides of the record contain some great songs and some mediocre songs. Maybe it is because Tom Rapp devoted this record to his wife Elisabeth (who takes care of the woman vocals) that this record is a bit more "dreamy" in sound and less obscure/ psychedelic then the previous recordings. The recordings themselves are more "difficult" and this record took me longer to appreciate then the earlier recordings. This record is still growing on me however and therefor I'll credit three stars for it. First try out the far more brilliant Balaklava!

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 Balaklava by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.96 | 19 ratings

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Balaklava
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by the philosopher

5 stars "This is trumpeteer Landfrey. One of the surviving trumpeteers of (...) Balaklava"

Pearls Before Swine made their music under the ESP label which gave them total freedom of their artistic ideas. This gave them the opportunity to write this obscure sounding Balaklava. Terms like psych-folk and acid folk are often used to describe this record, but the term Tom Rapp - the mastermind of the band - gave is far more accurate. He calls his music "constructive melancholy". Balaklava is filled with heavy and complex emotional value, which is created by the unusual way of singing of Tom Rapp and the abstract folk accompany which enhances the atmosphere. The album cover is a painting of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which is a flamish painter from the 16th century.

"One Nation Underground", the debut record of PBS fitted more in the singer/songwriting scene then Balaklava. The stronger melancholic context - created by breathing sounds, singing birds, pipehorn in the background, old recording sounds and tape manipulation - makes this record more obscure and less good comparable with other artists. My favourite song on this record is the "Ringthing", which sounds doomy because of the English horns and the gongs. The sinister sounding guitarnotes and the dark vocals makes this one a real thrill! Another great song is "Lepers and Roses" with great flute melodies and the best vocals of Rapp on the record.

This music is great and obscure and has unique atmospheres. This is PBS at their peak and their most interesting/experimental record. The later "Use of Ashes" is also well-rated, but is far less experimental and falls more in the symphonic folk category. This record is advised for psych collectors and fans of folk.

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 The Use of Ashes by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.26 | 24 ratings

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The Use of Ashes
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars With the other founder members of the band all gone, Pearls Before Swine had rather become the Tom Rapp show by this point. That said, as far as psychedelic-tinged folk-rock singer- songwriters go, Tom Rapp does an admirable job here, backed up with his then-wife Elisabeth and Memphis backing musicians to issue forth a range of sweetly sung ruminations. The title track derives from The Jeweller, which deftly reveals unexpected theological depth and hidden sorrows in the midst of its syrupy strings (This Mortal Coil did a decent cover of this one), whilst the album as a whole finds Rapp gently singing (in one of the most distinctive voices in folk- rock) his way through a plethora of themes. Not amazingly trippy by psychedelic standards, but there's an off-kilterness to it which persists through the album and keeps things distinctly 60s.

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 Tom Rapp (AKA Familiar Songs) by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.00 | 2 ratings

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Tom Rapp (AKA Familiar Songs)
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Tom Rapp - Familiar Songs (1972)

This is the first album that would be released under folk guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp's own name, instead of mentioning 'Pearls Before Swine' first. However, this album was released without informing Rapp, who would soon move to the Blue Thumb lable. It consists of what is said to be a collection of demo's of new songs and re-recordings of Pearls Before Swine songs. This isn't as problematic as it sounds, because the record doesn't sound like a demo at all and all songs have a sound that matches well.

Familiar Songs is often seen as a less important Rapp recording, because of it's re- recordings. Still, it has some nice things to offer and the new (more intimate) arrangements for some former Pearls Before Swine songs work really well. Especially the songs taken from 'These things too' could use re-recording. Some new tracks are 'Grace Street', the lively and rock'n 'Charley and the Lady' and the tad boring 'If you don't want to I don't mind'. All songs can be place in the realm of Dylanesque folk with a bit more intimacy and - without saying - the moving emotional/whimsical/folky vocal performances by Rapp.

Conclusion. A nice mild folk record with good renditions of Pearl Before Swine songs and the great vocals of Tom Rapp, but non-essential for most folk collectors. It's a bit hard to rate. Though I would only recommend it to fans of Pearls Before Swine/Tom Rapp, I can't say it isn't enjoyable enough for the three star rating.

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 The Use of Ashes by PEARLS BEFORE SWINE / TOM RAPP album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.26 | 24 ratings

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The Use of Ashes
Pearls Before Swine / Tom Rapp Prog Folk

Review by 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

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Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the artist addition. and to Friso for the last updates

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