Christian Kiefer

Medicine Show

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The proper sequel to Christian Kiefer's 2000 CD Welcome to Hard Times (Exodust was a very different affair), Medicine Show tones down the experimental sound textures but otherwise follows a similar approach. At its heart is Kiefer's brilliant songwriting: tortured, yearning, intelligent, yet very emotional. Despite a certain recess from experimentation, the music is not the least bit more mainstream; the strength of Kiefer's songs resides in the balance he strikes between the immediacy of the folk idiom (the bare bones of his banjo-and-voice performance) and the quirks of his arrangements (the genre-crossing between post-folk, post-rock, emo, and traditional folk). Like Welcome to Hard Times and his half of the split CD The Inexplicable Falling, Medicine Show takes the form of a continuous story unfolding through separate installments (songs). These are grouped in "acts" of sorts, separated by four "Snake Oil" interludes consisting of a solo banjo accompanying a soapbox philosopher's litany of mankind's physical and psychological ailments. These illnesses answer the main character's healing process after going through hard, personally redefining times, a story told once again through the prism of gold rush-era America. The album features a cast of guests from the post-folk and avant-garde scenes (including Blue Man Group's Jason Sinclair Long and ex-Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud), but as enjoyable as their contributions are, they never distract from Kiefer's stellar songwriting, some of the best of his generation. Highlights include the opening "Come Up" (with Jeanrenaud), "Bad Dreams," "Stumble," and "Slack" (the latter featuring an inspired electric violin solo from Darol Anger), although they all slightly pale when compared to the album's closer, the magnificent "Dream On Sweet Life," a typical emotional folk song, Kiefer style. Highly recommended.

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