Festival: Come, Arrow, Come!

By: Dennis Cook

Oh, the earth has dirtied this lonesome heart
And the wind has brought it to you
Oh, the days are long and the days are hard
But the life was fair and true

Sisters Alexis and Lindsay Powell, who comprise Festival, may be the finest lady sibling folk warpers since Kate & Anne McGarrigle first introduced us to bruised knee dancing in 1976. As loaded as that sounds, Come, Arrow, Come! (Language of Stone/Drag City) pries into the inner working of madrigals and mountain music, finding the still-weird, wonderful goop hiding inside acoustic worlds – the scrapes and dings of long boat journeys and subsistence farm existence hovering nearby the undeniably lovely surface ripples.

It doesn't hurt that the Powells sing better than Anne and Kate, or that the overlap and slap of their voices hits the ear like a stone on a lake, sending watery shimmers across the words, everything shining and moving ever so slightly even as the main body stays stable. Not hard to imagine fans of Joanna Newsom diggin' this but more hardcore folkies will also find much to swoon over here. Consider this yet another real score for Espers' Greg Weeks' mega-cool label, Language of Stone.

Part of Festival's artistry is how they don't stop at U.S. borders in drawing inspiration; they reach into Arabic scales, African rhythms and more, but in a way that serves their vision rather than some honky pilfering. Even after repeated listens, there's an air of mystery to this album that will not be penetrated, some veils that will not drop. Rare, and amazing, when that happens, and one senses Festival is just getting started, diving downward to rise up with pearls and lost coins plucked from music's boggy bottom and then held up in a tinkling, headily shifting light for us to ponder.

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[Published on: 7/30/08]

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