Summer family road trips can be hell on wheels or pure bliss; for Erik Friedlander it was obviously the latter. No whining, "Are we there yet," from him or his younger sister, both happy to while away the hours reading, chatting, and watching the miles slowly melt away. Besides, where was "there"? The answer, an uncle's farm in Washington state, a college town, or a scenic spot where his professional photographer father would teach or shoot. There was nowhere in particular, thus it was the journeys themselves that resonated in Friedlander's memories, eventually giving impetus to this languid, introspective album. The scenery shifts, the moods change, but the thoughtful atmospheres remain, as the cellist conjures up the very feel of the past. Some of the pieces quiver with anticipation, like "King Rig," which opens Block Ice and Propane in a surge of excited strums, like a gypsy dance of delight to be back on the road. "Airstream Envy" is equally up-tempo, a race the Friedlander family could never win in their Chevy truck, always left in the slip-stream of far faster vehicles. Much of the album, though, is given over to slower, highly atmospheric pieces, like the moody "Night White," the cheery title track, the more majestic "Rushmore," the homey "Yakima," or the delicately etched "Valley of Fire," good times one and all. There were low points as well, times when the family were just plain "Road Weary," fed up with "Cold Chicken," and felt like it was all too much, a feeling reflected on the discomfiting "A Thousand Unpieced Suns." Friedlander evokes it all exquisitely, a journey back to the past across a wide-open country that no longer exists, all wrapped around the dreams of youth. It's a picture of Americana at once familiar, yet unlike anything heard before, as the musician coaxes his cello into the aural shape of banjos and fingerpicked guitars; a truly astounding set.
Block Ice and Propane Review
by Jo-Ann Greene