Australia's Dirty Three have covered a lot of ground over their ten-year career, and always as a trio: violinist Warren Ellis (also a prominent member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds), guitarist Mick Turner, and drummer Jim White (the latter two are also known as the Tren Brothers). The band have continually re-examined their sound, and looked for different textures and dynamics while retaining their original instrumentation. Not this time. This is the Dirty Three as you have never heard them before. Their sound is unmistakable, but their creation process has changed significantly. For starters, the record was not done live in a studio. Secondly, the band employs a greater range of instruments. Ellis adds viola, bouzouki, piano, and mandolin to his cache, and Turner plays organ and bass as well as guitar. There are also two vocal tracks on the set, Sally Timms of the Mekons appears on "Feral," and Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) wrote the lyrics to, and sings, "Great Waves." Mark Soul also plays bagpipes on "Doris." What it all amounts to is the most adventurous recording in band's catalog. And the experiment pays off in spades. There are 19 tracks here, most of them under four minutes and all but two under five. In other words, Cinder captures the Dirty Three at their tightest, most expansive, yet most "song"-oriented album ever. It opens with White's cymbal and snare slowly and purposely announcing "Ever Since," before Turner's signature electric guitar and Ellis on bouzouki slip in unobtrusively and the melody asserts itself before Ellis' violin finds a melody in the weave and plays in, through, and around, evoking distance, melancholy, and the hint of real sorrow. The tune gains in intensity, but only enough to assert tension that goes unresolved before the band takes it down another notch on "She Passed Through." It's even slower, more meandering, yet more melodic and the shift of mood and dynamic is prescient. The recording becomes almost lushly romantic through "Amy" and "Sad Sexy," where the volume rises, the dynamic thickens, and the pace quickens. But it's still only a glimpse. The chaos begins to assert itself in the title track, which is simply an intro, a way of entering into "Doris," which quite literally explodes with Turner playing power chords in a way he hasn't since Horse Stories. "The Zither Player" also moves into hard-driven rock, albeit textured by Ellis' bouzouki. Marshall's vocal on "Great Waves," graced by Turner's guitar, is moody, drenched in gorgeous erotic poetry and kissed by the slow, unhurried, gradually unfolding drama that is an homage to eros. The dreaminess begins anew here and carries on throughout the rest of the disc. Timms' vocal on "Feral" is wordless, drifting, and spiritual like an inebriated angel trying to find a song in her memory as the band conjures that ghost above and around her voice. The elegiac "In Fall" takes Cinder out, purposeful, droning, whispering. The Dirty Three don't go at things. They look at them softly, through clouded gazes, and move around them. This has always been true. On Cinder, they engage a song itself in this way, in their way, by not trying to find its musical body, the place where it defines itself, but instead but they seek relentlessly, through investigation and elegant articulation of the journey, its spidery, impure, constantly desiring heart and find it, in all its wounded, pulsing beauty.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek