One of the great things about the music of Adeline Hotel is that it’s impossible to predict what will come next with each new album. In 2020, the band – which is essentially the brainchild of Dan Knishkowy – released their fourth album, Solid Love, a beautiful slice of low-key contemporary Americana in the vein of Shmilco-era Wilco. Good Timing was released earlier this year, and it’s an almost exclusively instrumental acoustic guitar excursion performed entirely by Knishkowy. This time around, The Cherries Are Speaking brings other musicians into the fold, and the result is something that nobody outside of this collective’s inner circle could have seen coming.
The album – considered the final entry in a loose trilogy that began with the two previous releases – employs a variety of instruments, but it’s not what you’d expect. Following up a record of layered acoustic guitar with one where absolutely no guitar is present is only one of the intriguing surprises here. Knishkowy sings and plays piano and mellotron and is joined by drums, violin, additional vocalists, and wind instruments. The songwriting and arrangements give off a feel of minimalism, but the unique instrumentation adds a layer of sophistication, reminiscent of the eerie mysticism of Nick Drake or Van Morrison, circa Veedon Fleece.
The primary source of inspiration is Italo Calvino’s 1957 novel The Baron in the Trees, which focuses on a boy who decides to live in cherry trees and engage in a selective relationship with the world around him. Knishkowy felt that the novel’s definition of “freedom” resonated with him. “The fundamental question of Cherries is what it means to be apart from the world, but still a part of it,” he explains in the album’s press materials. The tenderness inherent in the album seems to reflect Knishkowy’s idea of, to quote the late Warren Zevon, “splendid isolation”.
While the LP opens with the elegant, saxophone-led instrumental overture “Devotion”, it’s followed by the tender title track, as Knishkowy sings, “Holy visions of wild orchids / Slow the rhythm of my dreams” over piano and strings. “Holy visions” is a lyric Knishkowy used in the gentle ballad “Ordinary Things” from Solid Love, underscoring the threads that connect previous albums. These three albums are all executed in different ways, but musically, a consistent vibe runs through them all that seems warm and comforting.
While the title track is full of baroque beauty, there’s also a sophisticated singer-songwriter feel to songs like “We Go Outside” – once again anchored by vocals, piano, and sighing woodwinds – and the slightly more traditionally arranged “In a Simple Way”, with the rhythm section of Andrew Stocker on bass and Sean Mullins on drums. In the latter song, Knishkowy, much like Calvino’s protagonist, finds beauty in everyday occurrences. “Laughing on the floor,” he sings, “In that lemon dress you often wore / There’s beauty in the ordinary things / You’ve been pining for.”
Knishkowy is in good company on The Cherries Are Speaking. In addition to Stocker and Mullins, he’s joined by David Lackner on saxophone, flute, and clarinet, Macie Stewart on violin, and Caitlin Pasko, Vivian McConell, and Eric D. Johnson on vocals, the latter trio providing angelic backing on “Lot to Listen” and “Only a Little”. It may be a stretch, but more thematic similarities pop up with “Raspberry Stains” – is it perhaps a callback to “Blueberry Fingers” from Good Timing? Speaking of Good Timing, that album’s title track is referenced in “We Go Outside, Again”, itself a reprise of “We Go Outside”. “We go outside,” he sings over a stark, resonant piano. “Good timing.”
It can’t be stressed enough that The Cherries Are Speaking, while different in many ways from previous Adeline Hotel albums, is certainly in Dan Knishkowy’s wheelhouse and provides yet another side to his musical inclinations. Like most of what he does, this new album isn’t just a collection of songs – it’s a gentle sigh, a reminder to the listener to step inside those trees and take in the beauty that the world has to offer.