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Stranded Horse

Humbling Tides

(Talitres; US: 8 Mar 2011; UK: 7 Mar 2011)

Frenchman Yann Tambour records under the name Stranded Horse, structuring his songs around both fluid acoustic guitar and the west African kora, a 21-string instrument reminiscent of a lute. Tambour sings mostly in English, weaving in strands of Normandy folk music (which sounds Celtic, because it is) along with passionately delivered folk and snatches of French. It seems like it should be awful, but it is often transcendent.


Opener “And the Shoreline It Withdrew in Anger” uses its title to tip you off that you’re in for something offbeat. With his quavering but muscular voice and dextrous string work on this tune, Tambour weaves a spell that segues nicely into its follow-up, the faintly dirge-like “Shields”. There are fiddle accents throughout and an overall sense of ye-olde-timey music, but it’s never cloying. Tambour aims for something darker here, and generally succeeds.


There are some epics too. Four of the album’s eight tracks top six minutes, and closer “Halos” stretches on for nearly eleven. Don’t be scared off. Tambour is a strong enough songwriter and skillful enough arranger that the tunes remain—with a few exceptions, like the overlong “They’ve Unleashed the Hounds for the Wedding”—consistently engaging.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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