On March 1, Schlow Centre Region Library will host three acoustic-folk acts for a special concert.
The folk-rock husband-and-wife-duo Arborea will headline the show in promotion of their new album, “Fortress of the Sun.”
“Fortress of the Sun” kicks off with the haunting, ethereal-acoustic alt-rock anthem “Pale Horse Phantasm,” and keeps the serene, eerie vibe going from there. Singer Shanti Curran’s voice is peaceful and terrifying, evoking the spirit of such breathy singers as Enya while still staying rooted in her own identity. She sings with the effortlessness of Frank Sinatra while creating a full, resonant tone that seems to fill the entire track.
“Seems to” being the key phrase. Behind Curran’s fantastic voice work (not to mention her skills on the banjo, ukulele, sawing fiddle, hammered dulcimer and something called a banjimer), is the exquisitely mild yet interesting musicianship of Buck Curran (guitar, banjo, flute, sawing fiddle and vocals). Even simple guitar chords seem to carry the pathos of delicately crafted novellas, stripping music to its core and delivering a pure and calm, yet somehow mildly depressive mood.
The album moves on to darker depths of passion with the song “After the Flood Only Love Remains.” Buck’s simple chord strumming is perfectly accentuated by ethereal slide guitar melodies and Shanti’s impassioned vocals.
Arborea proves with this release that less really is more. Take, for example, the experimental track “Ghost,” which features no singing but rather only whispered spoken words over creepy volume swells. The lack of distinct melody changes this bridge track to its own piece of performance art. Additionally, it feels as if it sets up the perfect act break for the full record.
On “Rider,” we finally hear Buck’s lead vocal styling, and while he may not have his wife’s perfect tone, he delivers in a very different but still meaningful way. Though he’s not of the senior citizen demographic, there’s an “old” quality to Buck’s voice which pulls in the listeners’ attention to hear the story of this “rider” trying to discern his own fate.
The duo have the same haunting quality that established Simon and Garfunkel back in the 1960s. With perfectly blended harmonies and virtuoso-level acoustic prowess, Arborea is an act that cannot be missed.
If the duo have any “setbacks,” it would only be their staunch dedication to their genre. Don’t expect screaming guitar solos or to hear any Judas Priest covers any time soon. But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Arborea explores the folk realm in the same way mythical adventurers set off on quests for dragons; with extreme dedication.
Shanti’s vocals are never more impressive than on the seemingly bleak track “Cherry Tree Carol.” Her voice seems to perfectly encapsulate the longing and loss felt by one tuck in the forest alone too long. If you were to get trapped in a bear’s cave with just one folk record to keep you warm this winter, I’d have to recommend this one. Expect Arborea to do big things in the folk scene.
Alexander Turnquist’s record “Hallway of Mirrors” opens with something perhaps a bit atypical for the traditional folk purists out there. Boldly starting his five-track album with a guitar solo, Turnquist is quick to point out that his music is anything but ordinary. Using a varietal style of acoustic tapping and harmonic rakes, Turnquist nimbly dances over the fretboard like tiny ballerinas on a giant music box. He moves at a speed too fast for voice and generally only heard on electric guitar. This acoustic virtuoso doesn’t quit after the opening track “Running Towards”; rather he amps up the intensity shifting into the title track “Hallway of Mirrors.”
Somehow combining frenetic guitar-playing with a safe, relaxing atmosphere, Turnquist has created an original take on modern folk music. Even with no vocals, Turnquist tells his stories of woe and passion, of grim and grandeur, of remorse and redemption.
Somewhat reminiscent of composers such as Phillip Glass, Turnquist uses accelerated instrumentation in lower songs creating a sort of emotional “rift” in delivery. While still maintaining an upbeat guitar, for example, he creates moody, brooding soundscapes behind his fretwork to induce feelings of dread or delight, depending on the moment.
Nowhere is the skill for juxtaposition more prevalent than in the eight-minute epic “Spherical Aberrations.” The title seems quite appropriate for this song as it itself feels odd and ill-defined while still maintaining a well rounded vision. Complexity mixed with simplicity is the name of the game for Turnquist.
In his 16-plus-minute opus “Waiting at the Departure Gate,” Turnquist slow-plays to the point of almost non-belief. As he mildly noodles for 90 or so seconds, he is building toward some of his most challenging (and rewarding) guitar work on the entire album.
The final track, “Running From,” harkens back to the opening of the record with its tapping and harmonic stylizing. It’s almost as if Turnquist is capping off his record on the same note he began it.
Preferring the 12-string acoustic over the standard six string, Turnquist’s work has an inherent pleasantness to it not found in several other darker acts. Melancholy may be the name of the game, but joy is certainly a substantial competitor for the listeners’ ears. Turnquist moves around the fretboard like a painter with a blank canvas and unlimited supply. He is at one moment both sculptor and author of his own narrative without ever building anything or writing a single word. Relax and escape into this man’s vision as he takes you on a journey with his near perfect guitar playing.
To say Daniel Bachman is a bit of a prodigy is an understatement. The six-stringer has already seen a fair bit of success for himself as an international folk performer, even though he’s only 23 years old.
Bachman’s performance tool is a single guitar, but I will boldly say this: You will not believe one man can make that much sound come out of one instrument. As I listened to assorted tracks form Bachman (and checked out his impressive skill via Youtube), I kept having to remind myself that he was a solo artist, not two guitarists at the top of their game.
Bachman puts to shame several other players his elder with a seemingly untouchable style. Similar to show-mate Alexander Turnquist, Bachman’s music features no vocals but relies on instrumentation to tell a story.
With several releases under his belt, his next record “Orange Co. Serenade” will no doubt deliver this same level of unbelievable quality to its audience. Some people are born with “it” and clearly Bachman is one such lucky individual.
With the fast-paced articulation of guitar legends like Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, Bachman can pull a listener’s ear away from the standard top 40 radio and invite them to explore a new musical world they’d never dreamed of before. Songs like “Copperhead” and “White Oak” perfectly exemplify this young man’s phenomenal skills.