There is something vividly analog about the silences in the Tin Hat Trio's new album Book of Silk. It is the real sound of people not playing music and on this album these pauses are just as important as the notes themselves. And oh, those notes! Played with a frugality of someone who lived through some sort of musical equivalent of the Great Depression, each one is cherished and used to its utmost. The result is one of the most beautiful albums I've heard in a long time. The music can best be described as an ethnic schmear that will appeal to the hip Lower East Side of today as well as the one your bubbe inhabited 50 years ago. The brisket still tastes the same as it did back then and it's still delicious.

The Trio is Rob Burger on accordion, piano, pump organ, harmonica, etc.; Carla Kihlstedt on violin and viola; and Mark Orton on guitar, banjo, and dobro. They operate as three protagonists in a stage production, lobbing deliberate pieces of musical language at each other, each player on equal footing with the next and each, while maybe not a ribbon-wearing virtuoso, a master of their piece of the stage. Make no mistake about it: this play is a drama with a decidedly melancholy mood throughout. The occasionally upbeat tune is as refreshingly out of place as a roller coaster at Sunday school. The playing on Book of Silk is fantastic top to bottom--since each player is a multi-instrumentalist, each switching up from track to track in all possible permutations, there is a wide breadth of sound over the course of the album. At one moment there's a shade of bluegrass as Orton moves to dobro and Kihlstedt's violin becomes a touch fiddlish; the next moment an avant-garde flourish of piano and guitar brings vision of their downtown NYC roots; later a chamber ensemble takes form waltzing gorgeously through multiple sections with an air of true professionalism. Still this wide range is absent any conscious change of sound or tone from song to song; the flow is intrinsic and the trio acts as a single entity with no member more pronounced than any other. Perfect harmony in all ways... sure to be a contender for one of my tops of 2004.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 6/2/04]

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