Robin Holcomb

Little Three

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Robin Holcomb's third album is all gray sunlight and hardwood floors. It's like spending an hour in the dusty heat of an old-fashioned radiator, beneath thin windows pressed by brisk cold and rusting leaves, listening to a gifted musician as she explores the chordal possibilities of an upright piano. One can hear Holcomb relishing the warmth and resonance of the fresh, dissonant chords she creates. Her piano provides the only instrumentation on Little Three, and she sings on only two of the tracks. But somehow, her stark instrumentals evoke the same sensibilities as her eclectic folk songs: they're all about the beauty and hardship of simple, honest lives, lived with a sense of interconnection with the earth and with the spiritual. When her tenaciously earthy vocals do appear amid the sea of staccato instrumental dissonance, the marriage of musical personalities achieves a goosebump-raising perfection. The first time this happens is almost halfway through the album: on "Graveyard Song," the sharp discordance of Holcomb's piano playing melts into a hymn-like harmony, as she begins to sing her folksy, spiritual poetry. Most of the album is not quite as accesible as that. Her long, modern classical/jazz compositions don't make for an easy listen, especially for those inclined toward sweet pop melodies. But Holcomb's brand of eclectic dissonance nevertheless inspires a profound appreciation for the power of melody, because it mixes the harsh with the harmonious so perfectly that the sweet stuff seems even sweeter.

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