The five members of Black Prairie created the tunes on this mostly instrumental album collaboratively, although Jon Neufeld was the instigator behind their odd mix of swing, French cafe music, bluegrass, pop, and blues. The lineup includes three Decemberists -- accordion player Jenny Conlee-Drizos, Dobro, bazouki and Weissenborn slide guitarist Chris Funk, and cellist and bass man Nate Query -- alongside Portland folkies Neufeld and Annalisa Tornfelt, who joined up on guitar and fiddle, respectively. Hints of various American roots music styles show up here and there, but most of the instrumental pieces defy easy categorization. "Across the Black Prairie" combines a dark cello drone, lively bass and violin lines, and a vaguely Cajun accordion solo. "Ostinato del Caminito" could be a swing-flavored country tango, but as it meanders through time and tempo changes, it keeps you guessing. "Prairie Musette" is based on the tango/waltz form popular in Paris in at the dawn of the 20th century with Jenny Conlee-Drizos' accordion and Tornfelt's giddy Grappelli influences adding to the feel of a sidewalk café. The band shows off its bluegrass chops on "Back Alley," a workout for guitar, Dobro, and fiddle with some unexpected accordion accents, and "Home Made Lemonade," a more traditional fiddle- and Dobro-dominated tune. There are a few actual songs on the album as well, all inventively arranged to showcase the band's eclectic ethos. "Red Rocking Chair" is traditionally played as an uptempo number, despite it heartbroken lyric. Black Prairie slows it down to a funereal pace, and Tornfelt's muzzy vocals make her sound like she's in a medicated haze, her slurred enunciation making the vocals just another element of the mix. The cello-dominated "Blackest Crow" features random grace notes from guitar, long sustained accordion chords, and a chorus of overdubbed Tornfelt's vocals adding to the song's ghostly feel. "Single Mistake" is more straightforward, a moody blues tune with Tornfelt's despondent, echoing vocals echoing the sighing notes of Funk's Dobro, while "Crooked Little Heart" is a gently swinging torch song with bass marked by Tornfelt's sultry vocal and dramatic fiddling.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by j. poet