[4 February 2009]
There’s more interest in this release now that the singer-songwriter is playing with Fleet Foxes, but it turns out J. Tillman has been making music for quiet some time. Vacilando Territory Blues is Tillman’s fifth solo album; while his previous records have a determinedly insular tone, this latest ventures a hesitant step towards his new band’s gorgeous harmony. It’s only a glimpse—most of the time, J. Tillman is trafficking in skeletal, fractured interpretations of traditional American songforms—blues in particular. The best of this material (“Vessels”, e.g.) is arresting in its stark simplicity—a voice, one or two chords arpeggiated on guitar, little else. The album’s centrepiece is “Barter Blues”, a sprawling, seven-minute song that patiently builds through the addition of low cello drone and twittering banjo. The album becomes more noticeably devotional towards the end (“Above All Men”, for example, intones “We are blessed, lest we forget”). A serious, small album from a singer-songwriter we should probably be paying more attention to.