This fourth album from Wolff Bowden and Amanda Birdsall is a lesson in economy and intensity.
The economy is lyrical, with imagery and feeling expertly distilled into words of poetic beauty, but this also extends to the accompaniment to the album’s ten songs. Sparse foot drum rhythms, and barely-there guitars, fiddles and a banjitar provide ingeniously-judged backing for two fine story-telling voices, both individually and in harmony.
The album’s intensity is all-encompassing, not only in the brooding vocal deliveries throughout, but also in the atmosphere created by the seamless integration of the duo’s singing, their lyrics and backing tracks. As the song requires, there are what sound like Native American chants in ‘The Ghost Of Leonard Cohen’, as a fiddle figure winds itself around Wolff’s articulation of a dream. The chorus of the title track introduces Amanda’s harmony for the first time, defying the listener not to sing along. ‘Owl Mountain’ comes with overdubbed hoots, as essential to the song as they are to Gladys Knight’s ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’, and a fine call and response vocal duet.
‘Gold’ is almost hymnal, a simple blues harp motif a nagging constant, as Amanda, voice, cracking with emotion , emotes the anxiety over the most languid of accompaniments. And the subject matter can be harrowing in its honesty, where addicts yet to be born are mourned in ‘The Dead’, and ‘Birthplace’ may be the most intense track of all, as a series of images sung by Wolff at the very edge of his emotions, are underpinned by Amanda’s perfectly-weighted multi-tracked harmonies.
In ‘Puget Sound’ “rain upon your swollen wedding gown and “you were like a novel with the first ten pages burned before we met” are aural pictures illustrating the atmosphere of regret around a failed marriage, whilst in ‘That Was Alaska’ Wolff calls on a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, “oh what a forehead, oh what a man” and “a puffin the size of an infant, swaddled in oil slick” to illustrate his angst at the destruction of natural environments.
Economical too in length, American Son may be about the best thirty six minutes of organic wholesomeness to stimulate the senses this year.
Date added: Oct 15, 2017
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