When an individual crosses America by starting on either coast to later arrive upon the other, that intrepid explorer will notice the vast expanses of land and open skies that divide the many bustling cities. And should this person listen to the native music along the way, he or she will notice a similar spaciousness in the nation's dusty folk songs, rustic boogies, and cosmopolitan jazz. The Tin Hat Trio's approach to American music on their new album, Book of Silk, is no different, even as its members come to grips with the consequences of the open.
The title refers to an ancient Chinese text that connects natural catastrophes with the movement of comets across the sky. For guitarist Mark Orton, the tragedy was the death of his wife, Lauren, in a river-rafting accident. Her presence colors the melancholic "The Longest Night" with its icy, sustained accordion and violin that shimmer like rays of sunshine glimpsed through the treetops of a darkened forest. The ambiance of "Elliott Carter Family" places a threatening cast on the open through its bizarre noises, monolithic bass, and Carla Kihlstedt's barely discernable, improvised violin that glides and echoes through the night.
But the record isn't complete darkness. Accordionist and pianist Rob Burger's "The Clandestine Adventures of Ms. Merz" sashays with a melody that could come from any tango. "Things That Might Have Been" bounces with a front-porch, country-blues stomp that would make Keith Richards proud. Then there's the tender slide guitar and sweet violin on "Lauren's Lullaby" that puts any residual grief and fear to rest before the album's closing track "Empire of Light." Its lyrics and anachronistic Tin Pan Alley arrangement suggest a pleasant memory that remains, forever, in the present.
Perhaps that's what the members of the Tin Hat Trio found as they recorded Book of Silk. Even as the outside provides tragedy, it gives back joy. The open, they discovered, is inexplicable and beautiful in its elusiveness.
Just like their music.
Track Listing: 1. The Longest Night (Orton)
2. The Clandestine Adventures of Ms. Merz (Burger)
3. Compay (Kihlstedt)
4. Invisible Mobile (Orton)
5. March of the Smallest Feet (Kihlstedt)
6. Hotel Aurora (Orton)
7. Osborne Avenue (Burger)
8. Elliott Carter Family (Parkins/Tin Hat Trio)
9. Things That Might Have Been (Burger)
10. Red Hook Stopp (Burger)
11. Same Shirt, Different Day (Burger)
12. Pablo Looks Back (Kihlstedt)
13. Light Black From Pole to Pole (Kihlstedt)
14. Lauren's Lullaby (Orton)
15. Empire of Light (Orton/Coykendall, arr. Orton)
Personnel: Rob Burger - accordion, piano, prepared & toy pianos, bass & diatonic harmonicas, marxophone on
"Same Shirt, Different Day";
Carla Kihlstedt - violin, trumpet & e-string violins, viola, voice, marxophone on "Pablo Looks Back";
Mark Orton - guitar, dobro, banjo.
Zeena Parkins - harp;
Bryan Smith - tuba, euphonium;
and additional musicians:
Matthias Bossi - percussion on "Company";
Amanda Lawrence - viola on "The Clandestine Adventures of Ms. Merz" & "Empire of Light";
Jill McClelland-Coykendall - clarinets on "Empire of Light";
Lori Presthus - cello on "Empire of Light".