[21 September 2008]
Matt Bauer’s latest draws inspiration from the unsolved 1968 death of a young female who, in the absence of identifying information but in accordance with the state of her corpse, was dubbed “Tent Girl” by the media. She was discovered near Eagle Creek, Kentucky. Bauer uses that starting point for a series of imagined and interwoven narratives also drawing upon his childhood in rural Kentucky. The album won’t bring this girl’s physical being back into existence but, perhaps not so coincidentally, Bauer has been quoted as saying that music has almost literally saved his life. He certainly creates a reverent, mysterious atmosphere with intriguing themes of impermanence and place.
There are, though, a couple of problems. It is sometimes difficult, if not to hear the words, then to care about them. Partly this is down to the husky, whispered quality of Bauer’s voice. One man’s hoarse sensitivity is another’s irritating distraction, I guess. Hence, the songs which also include a female voice work best. Another problem is that the album’s intensity dictates a slow pace. “Florida Rain” threatens to kick things into a higher gear but this never quite materializes. At one point horns provide a lovely contrast but this too is a fleeting moment. The banjo and drum on “Old Kimball” works well but I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. Equally, “Foxgloves” is pretty, but pretty incomprehensible, too. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good project with a dark folk subtlety and musicianship to match but it could have been even better! Now let me contradict everything written thus far and say that “You Were Saying Goodbye” is brilliant: slow, hushed, and yet bursting with a powerful sadness wrought from virtually nothing. “Barn Owl” is a highlight but it’s topped by “Don’t Let Me Out”. There’s much to admire here and maybe The Island Moved in the Storm will prove to be a grower. Yet it’s my conviction that, given his talent, there is something much better to come from Matt Bauer.