The Low Anthem: Smart Flesh (Nonesuch)

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The Low Anthem: Golden Cattle
The Low Anthem: Smart Flesh (Nonesuch)

Sin and death and guilt; archaisms like "apothecary", "Gatling gun" and "player piano"; harmonica, pump organ, violin, saw and cello; whiskey and gin; recorded in a freezing cold room in winter . . . all the right elements would seem to be in place for more rustic music grounded in an older America from educated urbanites.

Smart Flesh is another mood piece of Americana from Rhode Island's Low Anthem which has almost chamber music/holy moment passages (the centrepiece, clarinet instrumental Wire which might have come from an Eno Obscure album) as well as banjo ballads (Burn) and that deliberately understated/under-studied sound about it.

But beyond the musical surfaces which are referenced in that old time consciousness (and take a leaf out of a trend started by Dylan's Basement Tapes but more likely Springsteen's Nebraska and Cowboy Junkies perhaps?) are words which rivet this into recent times.

The raging anger on Boeing 737 finds the singer in a bar on 9/11 with Philippe Petit (the Man on Wire, who re-appears in the title track); Burn and the deliberately poor recording of the title tracked track have some of the spare and suggestively poetic elegance of a very early Leonard Cohen lyric (and his dark, slow delivery); the rather belated Dylanesque/Band address to hippies who let their guard down which allowed Ronald Reagan to ride into town . . .

And in Golden Cattle they link back to the Biblical image of the Golden Calf and use equally archaic language and imagery.

This makes for lyric of depth married to music which alludes rather than states. 

So it might be wise to put aside any initial impressions of all those Americana ducks lined up -- so far, so familiar -- and discover this one slowly: it gives up more on each hearing.

Like the sound of this? Then have a listen to this.

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Michael Higgins - Mar 21, 2011


Great album - as is the one before it - "Oh My God Charlie Darwin"

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - Mar 21, 2011

Love them!

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