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Album review: Crow Puppets “Whispering Hills, Tangled Hair” (FRUK)

July 16, 2014

Crow Puppets album coverSince forming Crow Puppets, co-founders and multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriters Cara and Em have worked hard to establish the band’s live reputation and their self-released debut album Whispering Hills, Tangled Hair is another major milestone on their path.

Cara and Em’s bluesy harmonies evoke chill winter sunsets in the opener Whispering Hills as their acoustic guitars swirl like fallen leaves caught in a howling wind. The melody of Red Ribbons is influenced by one of the great folk music classics, John Barleycorn Must Die. It’s a singularly appropriate choice given the broody lyric of Red Ribbons, with its references to several age-old folklore traditions and the spirits of the Ice Maiden and Reynardine are entangled with the red ribbons of Fate as they prowl the ancient greenwoods.

The banjo-driven Hollow doffs its cap to American folk traditions while remaining true to its British roots with some sweet vocal harmonies. Night Draws Near is the edgy urban cousin of the title track, in which the country mouse comes to the big city and is, frankly, unimpressed by what she sees. The rhythm guitar drives this song, its chord progressions are well thought out and the harmony singing shines like stars above the urban streetlights.

 

Be is a heartfelt lament of loneliness, its fingerstyle guitar and banjo meshing seamlessly; while Renew observes the passing of the seasons, its plaintive harmonies calling for summers to come. Only Human is a tale of moving on and finding one’s place in the world, driven by some skilfully reverbed electric guitar it conveys a sense of restlessness and a desire to change things.

Sundown conjures images of lazy summer days by the river and quiet country walks. Spell of the night continues the bucolic feel into the small hours; its recorder and fluttering percussion like moths around a candle. Battlehorse draws the album to a close with a bang not a whisper, its battle cry of fierce harmonies leading the charge over some stirring banjo picking.

Whispering Hills, Tangled Hair is an assured and confident debut album which doesn’t outstay its welcome; if anything, I’d have liked to have heard more. By opting for a self-released album, Crow Puppets have successfully avoided the trap of recording a selection box of different styles; instead they have been able to remain focused on an evocative, contemporary folk sound that clearly inspires them. One to watch, definitely.

 

Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (16 July 2014)

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