By: Dennis Cook
"I'm the crutch that's missing/ and you're the crippled little lamb." It's a hell of a line and there's dozens more just as good all over Hymns For A Dark Horse (Dead Oceans), an interwoven tapestry of delicate, simply beautiful textures and details. Like the best acoustic music, this sits slightly outside of time, clutching the edges of truths with sweaty, grimy hands. Phil Moore (vocals, guitar), Beth Tacular (accordion, percussion, harmonies) and Mark Paulson (piano, violin, harmonies) weave a sound that's part English countryside Jansch-ism, archetypal Berlin nightclub swoon, hillbillies-on-valium stomp and Greenwich Village wide-eyed dreaming.
In 2008, the inevitable comparison is Bon Iver (backwoods spiritual vibe, gentle otherworldliness, created off the grid) but this is softly cheerier, more sunlight melting the frost on the leaves. The Three D's of folk moderne – Donovan, Devendra and Drake – hover at this party but are kept at arm's length by a quietly jubilant outpouring closer to Van Morrison's His Band and the Street Choir than anything else. This whips through your branches like a strong country breeze, full of interesting scents and not a few windblown bugs. Try not to be swept up by the living room hootenanny, tambourine shuffle of "Bur Oak" or the wayfarer cabaret twirl of "My Oldest Memory." You'll pull a muscle in the effort and then feel bad when the music makes you feel better, particularly on the click-clack gospel-of-their-own-making of "Slow Down" and the Hare Krishna meets Fiddler On The Roof swing of "In Our Talons." Hymns For A Dark Horse is the rare set that grows slightly more magical with each visitation.
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