Scott Tuma

Hard Again

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AllMusic Review by

Souled American's Scott Tuma goes solo on this delicate, piece of musical obscura that hovers somewhere between the Boxhead Ensemble's more tender moments and the Dirty Three's quieter ones -- the D3 drummer, Jim White, makes an appearance here. While Souled American made a music that was both hunted and haunted by an America they couldn't or didn't want to understand, Tuma uses tiny bits of that original underground America -- the 19th and early 20th century one that existed in parlor rooms on Sunday afternoons on hung-over mornings in front of the mirror before church, and the darker moments in a preacher's mind during a crisis of faith at the pulpit -- and blends them together with ghostly viscera from other eras and locales and makes an elegiac soundtrack for modern ears. All of this music is slow, all of it beautiful and spectral. There are the shimmering organ ministrations of "Beautiful Dreamer," barely hanging on as the phrases wax and (mostly) wane in the tunnel vision of the mix; the acoustic guitar hypnosis of "March Yourn Baby"; and the glimmering electric guitar and organ weave of "Sermon." Throughout the album sounds enter and leave through trapdoors, entering suddenly, unobtrusively, then either vanishing or disappearing with gradual, poetic purpose: Doors open and close, scratchy records flit across the soundscape, silverware clatters gently on a table, footsteps approach and retreat. In Tuma's music, everything is for emotional effect, everything is made up of dynamics and timbres; melodies exist, but they are simple and happenstance. They serve to root the listener to a moment before it passes not only in time and space but in the heart as well. Tuma doesn't manipulate the listener's emotional canvas so much as anticipate that some of the feelings he expresses and gives voice to in his music are simply easily identified by everyone. These musical sketches are testimonies to something that cannot be identified from the exterior. With help from White, Sarah Boone, and Michael Krassner, Tuma has created a tender, fragile, delicate, darkly beautiful mirror to look into and ponder.

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