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Such exquisite sorrow
Pieter | Johannesburg | 10/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This music is an intriguing blend of country-folk-rock produced by guitars, organ, piano, drums and the most expressive lead & backing vocals. The first track, More Brother Rides, is deeply moving although I don't really understand the lyrics; it's in the arrangement and the vocals. The next, Viva Ultra, is a sparse, slow, subdued number with exquisite guitar playing & melancholy vocals whilst The Brute Choir is somewhat similar but with more of a swing and lovely tinkling piano. Musically but not lyrically delicate, The Mountain Low sounds like an old folk song recorded in the early 20th century; Tonight's Decision (And Hereafter) is halting & sad with some unexpected vocabulary just like The Mountain Low. Both of these songs reveal a painfully bleak outlook on life.
Rock makes a spectacular entry on Work Hard/Play Hard, a track with modal & tempo shifts between the rousing and the introspective, the uptempo & the tender. The subtle vocal arrangements & chiming sound in the melodious ballad New Partner lend the song a special, magical quality whilst Cat's Blues contains welcome segments of soaring vocals after the sometimes mumbling and half-spoken delivery of previous tracks. The most mournful number, We All, Us Three, Will Ride, reminds me of Nick Drake in its simple but exquisite tune and spiritual undertone. The album concludes with Old Jerusalem, a brief excursion with profound lyrics and a sparse, subdued sound.
The overall musical effect defies classification; in its morbid moments it reminds one of Tim Hardin, American Music Club, Kevin Coyne, Swans or Nick Drake. The style of the music (leaving mood aside), occasionally covers the same terrain as Sufjan Stevens, Angels of Light or (again) Nick Drake & American Music Club. Although highly authentic & moving, Viva Last Blues probably won't appeal to a wide spectrum of even alt-country fans due to its sometimes oppressive sense of grief. But then again, it is very beautiful in its morbidity.