The majority of my family arrived in the United States in the early ’60s, a time of growing suburbs and mass production. Their children came of age with radios and television, and in their careless marches forward, tromped over the footsteps of their ancestors while ignoring those that littered the back roads of their new home. They knew little of either history, and quite frankly, did not care.
But, as my mother says in a gently mocking tone, the second generation remembers what the first forgot. In this, I find myself embracing the past and lusting after homespun histories that are not my own, basking in the sweet warmth of Americana and images of the untainted, rolling hills of our nation’s adolescent years.
Perhaps The Court and Spark thought the same thing with their third release, the five-song EP Dead Diamond River. The first of two offerings this year (the full-length Witch Season is set for August), River follows the same organically melodic path as 2001’s Bless You – twangy without being hokey, soft without being boring and smart without being snobbish.
The band hails from Northern California, a place whose influence is made clear. Driving down the roads of Marin County, where the album was recorded, the trails are rustic and windy, carved with wise, aged redwoods until they meet the boundaries of the cities. From there, the ancient land at once builds up, exploding into an urban maze of boundless knowledge and discovery. The Court and Spark manages to pull off the same careful juxtaposition, sounding as innocent as it does weathered and gently nostalgic as it is stunningly progressive.
It begins perfectly, with a delicate instrumental lullaby nearly identical to M. Ward’s “End of Amnesia.” Called “Invercargill,” it is an apt introduction to the wholly minimal, gentle album before falling into the poppier love song “Lucia.” On it, frontman M.C. Taylor sings, “She was beautiful, it was circumstance / Watch the boat on the water learn to dance,” his vocals sparking up into something similar to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy singing “California Stars.”
The aforementioned Ward also makes an appearance, providing guest vocals on “Hallelujah II” and conjuring ghosts of John Fahey’s hypnotic guitar. Folk ingénue Linda Thompson (formerly associated with Fairport Convention) lends a similar hand, giving understated depth to “Bar The Door, Davy” and “First Light At Avalon.”
At its best, Dead Diamond River shows the strengths of Americana today. It looks to the past without getting stuck in it, allowing a stable foundation for the future and beautifully proving that it is, in fact, impossible to know where you are going without first knowing where you have been – even if you were never technically there.
John Fahey – The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death
Nad Navillus – Show Your Face
M.Ward – End of Amnesia