Music

Sharron Kraus: Songs of Love and Loss

Jason MacNeil

Sharron Kraus

Songs of Love and Loss

Label: Camera Obscura
US Release Date: 2004-05-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Hailed for her debut album, Beautiful Twisted, which made the critics list in Rolling Stone, Sharron Kraus goes about her musical business in a very unique way. Performing with a quirky British psychedelic band The Iditarod, the British native has obviously listened to people like Canadian Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits, considering that a myriad of instruments and noises are emitted throughout the record. But Kraus feels at home giving each song a folksy nature with a grace that matches contemporaries like Kate Rusby and Cara Dillon. This is true on the dark, dirge-like "Gallows Song/Gallows Hill", the two-part effort which crawls out of the gate as Kraus leads the way. "They're going to hang me high / The people will gather around me there and watch me til I die", she sings as the drummer sounds like he's tuning his drum kit in the distance. The latter half picks up slightly as Jon Fletcher lends banjo to the tune that becomes a funky little toe-tapper.

This Appalachian feeling is throughout the record but is naturally presented with a Brit-folk style. The harmonica-driven "The Frozen Lake" has a haunting performance from Kraus that might be hard to meet, if not beat, the rest of the way. The strolling melody and slight sway is very cozy to listen to, recalling people like Nick Drake or a very mellow Alison Krauss. Kraus takes ample time communicating this message and it's to her advantage to do so with such a lovely tune. "The Tree Of Knowledge" consists of a mounting dark tension and an almost eerie feeling similar to walking down a dark narrow foreign hallway. This tension never surfaces, though, just rising and then ebbing throughout. Kraus also lets her voice be more of an instrument on this song along with her strong backing cast. The tender and minimal "Come to Me" almost evokes images of a Celtic lullaby with her alone at a piano.

This simplistic thread through the album is one of its biggest assets. "Song and Dance of the Bees" is a tad more intricate as the percussion is just above a dirge pace and the violin solo sounds like a swarm of bees swirling around one's head, delivering "tiny stinging kisses" as Kraus says. If you could imagine Nico growing up in England and meeting John Cale pre-Velvets you might have an idea of this song's tone. Another gem is "The Pale Prisoner", which concerns a lady in a castle tower. Here Kraus gives perhaps her strongest performance as a banjo is strummed in the distance. It's as if she's been possessed by a minstrel and is intent on traveling the countryside spreading her yarns. Hanging is a huge aspect to these songs also, to which "Song of the Hanged Man" would obviously attest. But this track contains more of a carnival, vaudeville atmosphere to it along the lines of Tom Waits.

As the record hits its homestretch, "Angelica Caraway" takes the album to a different area, working more with an upbeat and somewhat uplifting folk sound that Emmylou Harris could probably improve upon a tad. It's also the first track that contains a duet as Jon Fletcher briefly sings between a gorgeous and rich violin. It yet might be this similar pattern that at times makes the album a bit repetitive in terms of style, although Kraus breaks new sonic ground on the slightly pop-tinted "Still". The tune's ethereal, ambient, Enya-like nature gives way to a cacophony of psychedelic seconds as it winds down, resulting in an interesting experience. This up-tempo motif continues during the faster "The Fastest Train" and the jazzy, swinging "Murder of Crows" on which Kraus excels. This might be a style Kraus could expand on in future albums, but for now you're left with a lot of death ditties that are elegantly performed to near perfection.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image