Friday, September 28, 2012

Review - Tin Hat - the rain is a handsome animal

I like pinto beans.

I’m not sure why I even bought the rain is a handsome animal, the latest album by the multi-instrumentalist cabal that current goes by the name of Tin Hat. At first blush it sounds a lot like the kind of music they play on NPR as they take a commercial break, if you know what I mean and I think you do. And then there’s the fact that the album is based on poetry by the avant-garde poet e.e.cummings, a man so creative that he refuses to capitalize his name. I’ve got nothing against the man or his poetry, it’s just that I never find myself sitting in front of a warm fire, my favorite pipe firmly in hand and a burning desire to read me some e.e. cummings poetry ensconced in my brain. However I’ve enjoyed past albums by Tin Hat and so I forked over the credit card and listened and listened and listened some more. handsome animal is certainly not as playful or as dark as past albums. And instead of being mostly instrumental this beast is mostly vocal, thanks to violinist Carla Kihlstedt tackling the carefully constructed lines of cummings.

Just about the time that I’m ready to write this one off it starts to reveal itself to me. The classical-meets European folk melodies begin to shine through and what I once thought of as excessive use of the bass harmonica now seems appropriate. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a non-polka accordion fan and this album is packed with exceptional squeezebox bravado, especially “a cloud on a leaf” where Rob Reich evokes images of accordion virtuoso Piazzolla. Clarinetist Ben Goldberg joins the accordion in “2 little whos” to make a romantic afternoon in Paris, forming gauzy atmosphere in the likes of an impressionistic painting. A funeral arrangement of horns fills “buffalo bill” with a somber spirit, giving Kihlstedt ample room to mourn and flex her expressive vocal cords. Acoustic guitarist and founding member Mark Orton more than holds his own amongst these musical maniacs. “sweet spring” is a beautiful song featuring Orton’s impeccable talents, graciously allowing the silences to say as much as the notes played. And as always Kihlstedt’s violin prowess is on full display, never more so than on the crazed violin solo in “enormous room,” frantically careening about on silken slippers. These songs are definitely slow growers but they appear to be paying rich dividends.

I was originally planning to pan this album but dangit if I didn’t instead discover why I bought the rain is a handsome animal: Tin Hat never fails to surprise and never fails to please the ears.

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