Most modern folk bands look no farther than the golden age of popular American folk music of the ’60s and ’70s for their inspiration. To find an act that revels in the long-forgotten realms of traditional melodies today seems rarer still, shadowed as they are by the advent of such pointlessly (un)descriptive sub-genres and modifiers of recent years. I’m not saying Devendra Banhart isn’t a freak, but “freak folk?” Come on, what does that even mean? If the nature of music is indeed cyclical, it’s true that some styles lie buried far deeper in the past than others, then maybe it just takes a little longer for them to finally emerge from the detritus.
Listening to the brief Come, Arrow, Come! is tantamount to passing through ancient forests where earthy acoustic guitars echo through the hollows between trees and yearning vocals drift as leaves to the soft ground below. Or maybe more like the drive to the Renaissance Faire. Either way, the Powell sisters (Alexis and Lindsay) conjure music of a much more distant past, of vivid pagan ritual shrouded in the mists of time. It’s a risky venture to skirt the fairy rings of this decidedly medieval variety, but often enough it works in their favor, particularly on the Celtic chill of “Zebulon,” whose lonesome melancholy and sorrowful authenticity rivals that of Loreena McKennitt’s most ethereal compositions.
Throughout the album pastoral tones ring softly against the sisters’ interweaving vocals, which themselves seem ghostly in their shared solitude. After shaking the soil from the last sordid strains of “Boxcar,” it becomes apparent just how effective a maneuver this display of vocal acrobatics really is: an otherwise simple song is strengthened by the layering of staggered harmonies. In the absence of dense instrumentation, it’s the sisters’ voices that define the music of Festival, a mournful paean redolent of another age altogether.
At its most arcane and emphatic (the bell driven “Blown Light”), Come, Arrow, Come!, easily transcends any attempt at categorization. Even the vaudevillian “Valentine” seems a natural segue, if a little unexpected. Never mind that it recalls the simplistic pop of Lavender Diamond; it’s still more sincere than Becky Stark could ever hope to be (I’m sorry Becky, but building an amusement park will not unite people and bring about world peace, no matter how much you wish it). Perhaps the album’s most representative moment arrives in its denouement, in the soulfully sparse piano chords of “Come Outside,” whose pining lyrics are matched only by the longing coo in which they’re sung.
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