The Tin Hat Trio held two people captive one recent evening on New York State's Taconic Parkway. An orange crescent moon in the western sky followed the rental car, while the chug of a dobro and the sad lament of violin mingled with accordion drifted around the air-conditioned interior. The road was long, but the evergreens were endless, and the city seemed an eternity away.
The San Francisco group's third release The Rodeo Eroded is a tangle of seductive Eastern European melodies, sprightly irreverent percussion, and sly forays into other lands. Composed of Rob Burger (keyboards, accordion, harmonica), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, viola, voice), and Mark Orton (guitars, dobro, banjo), the trio kicks up a nostalgic dust of traditional American sounds enhanced, or perhaps corrupted by foreign influences. A smattering of exciting guests add their expertise to the disc. After Phish drummer Jon Fishman's energetic percussion display on "Happy Hour", comes the pure innocence of Willie Nelson's voice. He sings of falling shadows and whispering winds on the poignant "Willow Weep For Me" while Zeena Parkins plays harp. Billy Martin of Medeski Martin and Wood lends his percussive abilities to the wacky "Holiday Joel", and Bryan Smith of Deep Banana Blackout plays tuba on two songs. Even without the big names, something serious and rare is going on with this record. There's a musical communication that transcends ethnicity. It combines influences from widespread places, eras and cultures. It varies from intensely lush to acutely singular. It makes you want to stare deeply into the dark eyes of the stranger across the room and kick up the ruffles of your skirt, or bounce over the prairie in a covered wagon with sweat on your face.
The second half of the disc seems to wander renegade-style into no-man's land. Strong emotions continue to arise, but the meaning gets misguided. An eeriness oozes in and dissipates the memory of those enchanting opening tracks.