A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart

by: Black Prairie

Yeah, Black Prairie were founded by three members of the Decemberists, Chris Funk, Nate Query, and Jenny Conlee, as a back-porch string band side project, but the Decemberists they aren't, and this fine second album shows the growth, poise, and vision of a completely separate band. A lot of this is due to the beautifully nuanced vocals of Annalisa Tornfelt, whose hushed, unhurried, and wonderfully balanced singing makes songs here like "Rock of Ages" and "Nowhere, Massachusetts" sound ageless, comforting, and wise. Most of the material on Black Prairie's impressive debut album, 2010's Feast of the Hunter's Moon, were instrumentals that featured the band's unique brand of maverick East European Gypsy Appalachia, but the addition of Tornfelt as a singer moves things into a new place, and it's a good place, and it's the sound of a band that is fully realizing its vision. Everything here is an original composition, with vocal pieces offset by odd and cinematic instrumental interludes that set and convey a tone and feel that meshes perfectly with the comfortable, deep warm quilt glow of the whole album. It's a reverent album, too, with song homages to John Hartford (the instrumental "For the Love of John Hartford," a clogger's delight) and the Band's Richard Manuel ("Richard Manuel"), and Elvis Presley is name-checked in the gorgeous "Lay Me Down in Tennessee." There isn't a note out of place anywhere, even though the band is adventurous and skews off in any direction imaginable within the arrangements of the songs. This is a wonderful album, full of great players playing like the best back-porch string ensemble one is likely to hear, and with Tornfelt's vocals giving things a consistent emotional integrity, it adds up to one of the best and most unique Americana albums of the year. ~ Steve Leggett

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