By Land, By Sea
The Decemberistsâ€šÃ„Ã´ major label debut The Crane Wife indicates they have no plans to sell out and fall victim to commercial success. The album title is that of a Japanese folk allegory where a poor man finds and rescues an injured crane that appears in the form of a woman, whom he marries. She weaves fabrics that make them wealthy, but because of the manâ€šÃ„Ã´s greed, he loses her. This is just one of the chapters in this literary musical construct. Lead singer Colin Meloy takes the audience on a narrative journey through a Civil War love story, to escaping the current war in Israel by riding the high seas, and amidst a tale of star-crossed lovers in San Francisco. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s like climbing aboard grandfatherâ€šÃ„Ã´s lap to behold stories of yonder.
The folklore is not limited to the subject matter. The progressive folk/pop troupe, from Portland, Oregon, revives an â€šÃ„Ãºoompahâ€šÃ„Ã¹ sound with the use of the accordion, stand-up bass, and pedal steel guitar. Bits of polka, klezmer, sea chantey and Irish folk abound throughout the songs. The album has two great bookends, â€šÃ„ÃºThe Crane Wife 3â€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºSons and Daughters.â€šÃ„Ã¹ The middle is a folly of an adventure with the driving force of â€šÃ„ÃºO Valencia!,â€šÃ„Ã¹ but drags through twelve minutes and three movements of â€šÃ„ÃºThe Island.â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºThe Crane Wife 1 & 2â€šÃ„Ã¹ envelopes you with a crescendo of emotion and drum roll. Meloyâ€šÃ„Ã´s nasal voice borders on grating at times, but he never manages to step over the line due to his heartfelt delivery.
All and all, this unique and eclectic blend champions the bookish intelligencia, refreshing indeed for popular music. The album is a grower, with new discoveries to be had with each listen. Climb aboardâ€šÃ„Â¶