A Gourd of Gold

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Eight months after Coming Out of the Fog, Arbouretum showcase their love of great songwriting with this four-track, 26-minute collection of cover songs written by Gordon Lightfoot. The band have previously revealed their skill at melding post-pych jams with songwriting craft, with previous renditions of Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman," and to a less bombastic degree, with Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time." Lightfoot may have sold loads of records in the 1970s, but outside his native Canada, he is hardly afforded the reverence he deserves as a brilliant narrative songwriter. He's often paired with John Denver and Jim Croce, though he is from a far more rugged folk tradition. Commencing with "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Arbouretum dig into the story of the ship, the storm, and the men who were lost with genuine reverence, sorrow, and confidence. Spinning out over nearly 12 minutes, Dave Heumann and company use brooding, dynamic restraint, controlled feedback, and a nearly funereal waltz tempo underscored by thrumming tom-toms that communicate the spirit of dread in the story. Using country-rock with a cascading organ in the backdrop to illustrate "Carefree Highway," Arbouretum showcase the bittersweet nature of lost love with the protagonist blaming only himself for his loneliness -- without a trace of camp or nostalgia, and with a tempo and textural presentation that recalls Neil Young's "Southern Man." The genuine surprise in the sparse yet spaced-out treatment of "Protocol," with its floating wah-wah and fingerpicked guitars, droning rhythm section, and traces of feedback, is highlighted by a reverbed organ that threatens to explode as the track gathers tension and volume, but never quite does. Closer "Early Morning Rain" is completely revisioned. Encasing it in thundering, rumbling tom-toms, shimmering cymbals, dissonant organ, droning guitars, and a wall of reverb caging the vocal throughout its five-and-a-half minute duration, it comes closest to derailing the familiar melody in favor of rockist power and naked emotion. That said, as close as it comes to the edge, Heumann commands the proceedings, sticking close to the melody line even as the instruments surge, flutter, and spiral in a maelstrom, keeping the tune's meaning inside the lyric. Arbouretum have found the inner and outer spaces inside Lightfoot's story songs, offering shades and dimensions in their meaning. On A Gourd of Gold, they explore them with depth and taste, revealing them to a new generation in the process and highlighting the depth they possessed all along.

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