One of the many aspects of music that make it, well, just so darn good is the ability of a song not only to invoke emotion but to also transplant the listener to different times and environments within lives they have never lived. The Ramones not only inspired a musical movement and a fashion frightening aesthetic but also exposed the gritty streets of NYC to a number of generations who never have and never will experience a time when the East Village wasn’t so much hip as it was just dangerous and dirty. On the opposite end of similar scale, North Carolina’s Bowerbirds are able not only to capture a roots folk sound with their far from scarce acoustic laments but also introduce the world to a Carolina cabin life far removed from the synthetic everydays us consumers have come to call existence.
The byproduct of a work sponsored experiment which required Bowerbirds’ frontman and principle songwriter Phil Moore to spend a good amount of time in North Carolina’s most remote of woodlands, Hymns for a Dark Horse follows a path that is set with the righteous but often tackles evil (read: humans) amidst the beauty of all that the earth of old has to offer. “Hooves,” a love song which utilizes earth inspired metaphors, a technique that is rampant throughout the release, tells of a lover that is “the kindling that burns below my heart” and “the hooves that lead me through the forest.” “In Our Talons” is a boastfully exquisite track complete with a certain palpable pomp and swagger that calls to mind the production that made Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar so engaging. Lyrically, the playful ambience created by the chorus of curtain singers and melodious accordion line strikes a sinister but necessary notion of nature turning the tables on those who find the nerve to attempt and destroy it. Moore’s endorsement of his surroundings continues with “Human Hands” which features a gleefully placed saloon styled piano and lyrics relating to the fallibility of man and Moore’s own understanding for the seemingly darker parts of nature (“there is no hate in your darkest clouds/no ill intent/yet there is hate all around…yet there is hate in human hands“).
Moore’s love affair with everything removed from running water continues and takes the form of “living with cockroaches” in “My Oldest Memory” while his lover’s arms and feet are compared to (you guessed it) “the roots that weave beneath the floor” in “Bur Oak.” These comparisons that often seem either obvious or absurd may put off some but do echo the sentiments of his neo-folk peers who all to often find themselves nauseated by the modern world but are content to become drunk off the romanticism of a babbling brook. These 21st century hippies may not have the originality of the Haight-Ashbury sect that they are certain to draw comparisons to but they are also far removed from the jam band groups of present day who tend to lose themselves in the smoke as opposed to the fire.
The harmony that the entire album seems to be searching for comes to a head in “Slow Down,” the album’s most lovely convergence of spastic and distant drum stick swipes, layered female backing vocals and a message of restraint and appreciation that is true to its title. Moore may not be the catalyst behind any drastic or life altering environmental epiphanies with this charming and careful debut but he may open some eyes to a sunset and certainly more than a few ears to its Blue Ridge beauty.