(Hidden Shoal Recordings)
Catching my attention as one of David Bowie’s new favorite bands, Boxharp is an avant-garde duo out of North Carolina who, like me, listened to Burl Ives songs in the 80’s, but, unlike me, actually covered one (“The Moon’s The North Winds Cookie”). Their new album, The Green, which was released last May on Hidden Shoal Records, has a notably childlike lullaby theme that is both calming and unsettling.
The first track, “Paper Boats,” is a gentle, free-floating harmonization of singer/songwriter Wendy Allen’s vocals with crickets chirping in the background. Alongside Allen, producer/engineer Scott Solter uses natural and supernatural atmospherics to simultaneously ground and uplift us.
Later, the album moves in more of a rhythmic and melodic direction. Allen’s vocals are layered nicely across songs like “The Green,” while other songs, like “Wooden Music,” are more percussive and otherworldly. Just like “Paper Boats,” “Wooden Music” also gives us the impression of being outdoors, surrounded by nature and perhaps something unfamiliar, too.
Although I struggle to clearly define Boxharp’s musical genre, the unlikely combination of a West African vibe and a Celtic folk feel on songs like “Hicks’ Farewell” seems to work. The gentle ballad “Cloy” shows us how beautiful Allen’s vocals are as her voice soars up and above the rooftops, eventually floating downward again. The most peaceful track of all, however, is the breathtaking “The Moon’s The North Winds Cookie,” the lyrics of which come from a poem by Vachel Lindsay.
The last quarter of the album takes some questionable twists and turns. “Sidestepping” has uniquely beautiful piano lines at the beginning that I wish would remain a more significant part of the song. Later on, “Konnarock, VA” serves as an artistic interruption that disturbs the flow of this album, as the song has much more of a melodic pop and radio-friendly feel than all the others. The album then ends with a few tracks that are minimalist and a little sleep-inducing.
All in all, The Green is an interesting debut that draws me in as much as it gently pushes me away.