Reviews - Talking With Strangers



FRom Terrascope reviews


(re-issue of 2009 album on HST Records )

One is struck first by the sound of the acoustic guitar that opens this album. Getting the sound of any instrument just right in the studio is a challenge, and acoustic guitars especially so. It is so easy to lose clarity in a quest for warmth and fullness, and vice versa. Really very tricky. The acoustic guitar that opens this album is, to my ears, just right – and so I am already somewhat won over. And it’s not just the acoustic guitar. The record as a whole sounds great. The artists, producers and engineer have delivered a recording that is pristine and warm in impact, but that effectively sidesteps the horrible digital “perfection” of much of today’s slick, major-label offerings.

The two opening songs, “Neverknowing” into “Jazz Birds”, felt like trifles to me at first, but have definitely grown on me with time. I quite enjoy the interaction of the male and female voices that first shows up here and continues to be a highlight throughout this album; standard harmonizing in some places, but call & response and odd counter-melodies in others. Reminds one a bit of the way Kate Bush has sometimes utilized the male voice on some of her albums.

I was well aware of Dyble’s position in the history of Fairport Convention, but in doing a little research I was surprised and intrigued by the fact that her career is also somewhat intertwined with King Crimson. And then one sees that Robert Fripp is on this album…and that the third song here is a Lake/Sinfield composition (“C’est La Vie”)! I was anxious to hear that cut…and then disappointed when I did, as I think it is the album’s weakest. (But fear not, Fripp-Freaks; his presence, though spare, is felt here and there throughout the album to great effect.)

This album feels to me like a good concert in that Dyble seems to more fully inhabit the songs as the album progresses. Everything seems to get deeper and more heartfelt with each passing cut. I also sense a growing melancholia and world-weariness – that I find quite appealing – setting in about half-way through the album. The earlier tracks find Dyble in a familiar and comfortable McShee/Tabor/McKennitt camp, but by track six and seven I’m more reminded of Dagmar Krause.  In this sense “Grey October Day” is perfection. I generally hate music videos because I so much prefer that a song conjure a little film in my mind as opposed to being force-fed someone else’s images simultaneously into my ears and eyes. The elegiac organ chords, the unexpected saxophone, the conversational female/male vocals of “Grey October Day”…and there it is: a somber little art film in six minutes.

And speaking of minutes, next up is “Harpsong”, clocking in at nineteen minutes plus. I am a sucker for long songs. I appreciate artists who take risks. The long song is a major risk. The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” works via a hypnotic, trance –inducing repetitiveness. On the other hand there’s also a bunch of long, repetitive songs that will bore one just about to death. Quicksilver’s “The Fool” takes the opposite route and its extended length serves up instead several distinct but related movements. They inform and enhance one another and lead inevitably to a moving and awe-inspiring climax. But then there’s also a bunch of long songs that are a collection of movements that make no sense at all next to one another and end up delivering the emotional wallop of a tin of instant mashed potatoes. Dyble’s “Harpsong” belongs in the “distinct but related movements” category…and it comes up aces across the board. Its main recurring theme, that also serves as the opener and closer of its suite of movements, is, if not startlingly unique, still gorgeous both in melody and lyric. The movements in between, however, do provide some very unexpected and exciting twists and turns, especially the one that sounds like it could be the great lost alternate bridge from “21st Century Schizoid Man”!!! (I suspect a Fripp in the works.)

That’s where the original album ended, and in my opinion, the addition of two bonus cuts after it is a distraction from and compromise of the quality of this album. When I get a re-issue of a beloved album that’s loaded with bonus cuts my initial reaction is usually one of great joy because I get to hear new stuff that wasn’t available before. In the long run, though, I often wish the bonus cuts weren’t there and were saved instead for their own “rarities” disc. Good albums are sometimes – I think usually – meant to be what and how they were originally conceived. The bonus cuts here are perfectly good songs and I’m glad I have them, but this album used to end with the magnificent “Harpsong” because it’s supposed to and it still should.

(Kim Draheim)