Cliff Eberhardt & The Wooden Sky Reviews

Originally published in The Red Deer Advocate, October 3, 2009

Cliff Eberhardt

500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions

Red House Records

 The folk roots world is full of singers and musicians many are unlikely to encounter and yet who inspire such devotion from followers that they maintain a fruitful career far from the spotlight. Lucy Kaplansky, Laurie Lewis, Greg Brown, and Steve Forbert are but four who have toured and recorded albums over a number of decades while never becoming household names.

Cliff Eberhardt would fit comfortably on such a list. Having only recently become aware of Eberhardt, I found myself wondering, “How have I missed this guy?” Like Jimmy LaFave and Kate Campbell, when you listen to Eberhardt you are fully willing to accept that he is the finest singer you have heard in a very long while.

There is little especially unique about his voice, but the open manner in which he approaches each song while forgoing indulgent elaboration- leaving space between the notes and words- brings each composition to life. He is a devastating acoustic and slide guitarist, coaxing gentle sounds from his instruments supported by a small, rotating band of collaborators.

Featuring largely acoustic instrumentation with a bit of electric guitar on select tracks, 500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions resembles 1990’s The Long Road, Eberhardt’s debut album, in more ways than it does the similar sounding but more stylistically intricate The High Above and the Down Below which preceded this new release.

With this album, Eberhardt inspires listeners to continue searching out his cinematic, mindful music.

The Wooden Sky

If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone

Black Box Recordings

Iron & Wine- Sam Beam- has much to answer for. In his wake, an entire sub-genre of introspective, indie acoustic folk has sprung with much of it little more than tiresome and twee, angst-ridden adolescent poetry set to guitar, bass, and percussion.

Amongst the drivel glimmers of substance are apparent, including Canadians Great Lake Swimmers, Barzin, and even Wood Pigeon. I missed Toronto’s The Wooden Sky’s first disc When Lost At Sea two years ago, but purchased a copy this summer; I became enthralled with the blend of pop influences with a folk song approach.

With this new album, Gavin Gardiner- principle member of TWS- has expanded the group’s sound by pulling back from the indie rock touches. Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot to Me)is a masterful lead track featuring Gardiner’s youthful voice searching for answers over an unobtrusive but catchy bed of instrumentation. By the time Debra Jean Creelman comes in to harmonize on the refrain, one is hooked.

The momentum generated by the lead track is maintained over the course of the album’s thirteen tracks. The songs are narrative only intermittently, Gardiner and his crew eschewing linear tales in favour of poetic-pop images and lyrical collages.

For fans of Elliot Brood and Joel Plaskett, If I Don’t Come Home… is an early contender for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee and thanks to all the labels that continue to service me with great music to share. Donald

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