This alterna-folk album should please Espers fans and others.
Welsh folkie Sharron Kraus betrays some heavy Espers influence on The Woody Nightshade, her latest full-length -- or maybe Espers has been showing her influence. Who knows? Kraus played alongside Helen Espvall and Espers’ Meg Baird on Leaves from Off of the Tree, a 2006 collection of traditional songs, and she opens this record with a pair of tunes that could be outtakes from Espers' excellent II. "Nothing" features atmospheric background accents underneath Kraus' mournful keening-in-harmony, while "Two Brothers" spins a plaintive, contorted tale of complicated love, accompanied by urgent but understated electric guitar. The electric elements in both songs lend sonic interest but never sound out of place in the songs, all written by Kraus but moored so solidly in tradition that they sound as if they've been around for centuries.
The first half of the record proceeds with nary a misstep, and Kraus' haunted, wistful voice is perfectly suited to the material. It's unfortunate that a pair of songs slow things down at the midway point. "Story" and "The Woody Nightshade" meander along listlessly, sapping the record's momentum, though the chugging follow-up "Teacher" helps recover lost energy. The record closes out well, despite the halfway-through hiccup, and anyone with an interest in the Brit-folk tradition would do well to give it a listen.