Arc Iris is the band singer, composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams established after leaving the Low Anthem. This self-titled debut album is nearly impossible to categorize. Though this bracing, fresh, nearly seamless meld of cabaret, folk traditions, country, rock, classical, cabaret, and jazz is eclectic and ranging, it's accessible to listeners of many stripes. The anti-materialist opener "Money Gnomes" commences as a bluegrass-inspired rocker with acoustic guitars, banjo, and snare drum before the bridge becomes a Stephen Foster-esque parlor waltz with lilting cellos, tinkling pianos, and three-part female vocal harmony. Then it shifts back as pedal steel, brass, and reeds join in, carrying it out riotously. In the intro to "Whiskey Man," a lone cello plays a melody informed by Celtic tradition. It's underscored by acoustic guitar before Adams and a small vocal chorus deliver a tome of profound loneliness and unrelenting heartache that fuels a slide toward alcoholism. Its lilting melody and bittersweet vocals are painted by banjo, upright bass, and a rumbling kick drum. The song's spirit recalls 19th century Americana, but its arrangement and presentation are contemporary. "Canadian Cowboy," with its cascading pianos and strings, recalls Jimmy Webb's Mirage period, as intricately woven, lush, instrumental textures are tempered by dynamic restraint. "Singing So Sweetly" is a saloon song. Prohibition-era jazz and blues are framed inside cabaret music, quirkily tilted as punchy electric pianos assert themselves among reeds, brass, upright bass, and drum kit. "Ditch," a broken love song, evokes early rock & roll-with-a-doo wop-chorus, colored by B-3, pedal steel, and horns. Adams' singing is vulnerable and free of artifice yet steely in its honesty. "Powder Train" weds swinging honky tonk to funky R&B. Electric pianos, pedal steel, clarinet, and a killer trumpet break insert jazzy pop that's completed by a singalong chorus. "Swimming" employs progressive jazz, Spanish and Eastern European folk tropes, cabaret, doo wop, carnival music, and indie rock. "Might I Deserve to Have a Dream" is a slow, poignant, spiritual, its voices buoyed by distorted guitars, cello, and clarinet. The longing in Adams' voice is framed by music that illuminates rather than illustrates her understated but emotionally charged lyrics. Adams' words employ a poetic economy rather than a strict storytelling narrative, yet they invite the listener in with melodies and charts that punctuate them with imagination and drama. Each song stands alone, but is made larger by being placed in an album whose soundworld is a fantasia: here, the interplay of past and present is fluid, organic, immediate. Arc Iris is an auspicious debut. This band's disciplined, sensitive unity expresses Adams' fresh, expansive musical vision with elegance and grit, humor and pathos, tenderness and sensuality.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek