Meredith Bragg

Silver Sonya

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With his band the Terminals, Meredith Bragg has recorded a full album and an EP of music that falls somewhere between folk and pop, with beautifully constructed arrangements that lean heavily on guitar, cello, and unexpected keyboard textures. For his first solo album, recorded after an extended European jaunt, he gave his producers Chad Clark and T.J. Lipple two guide lines -- only the sounds of his acoustic guitar and voice could be used, but once recorded they could be manipulated in any way possible to give the songs depth and texture. With digital technology almost anything is possible, but the producers acted with remarkable restraint. The sounds they produce and layer onto the original tracks take nothing away from Bragg's guitar, which is given a bright glossy sheen without overwhelming its warm acoustic sound, or his voice, a fragile instrument often compared to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Elliott Smith, but with a cordial, inviting timbre that's his alone. Bragg isn't afraid to show off his knowledge of history or his intelligence, and one of the album's treats is the way he juggles language. His songs about geometry and history are just a beguiling as his love songs, all sporting elegant melodies and delivered with incomparable grace by his openhearted tenor voice. "Twin Arrows," perhaps the arrows of outrageous fortune, could be a song sung by the ghost of Julius Caesar or Tutankhamen, serenading modern tourists as the way though the ruins of Rome or Cairo. The guitar phases in and out producing shimmering overtones, delicate chimes and the sound of chirping crickets. The subtle percussion could be Bragg tapping on the guitar then looping the sound into a bubbly rhythm. The result is a warm, organic electronica that enhances Bragg's aching vocal. "Plinian" is the story of the destruction of Pompeii adapted from a letter Pliny the Younger sent to a friend at the time. Despite its lofty concept, the execution is down to earth and chilling. Images of falling ash, burning seas, poisonous gas, and roiling volcanic clouds are presented simply by Bragg's passionate vocal and strumming guitar. His backing vocals are wordless laments, with the production emphasizing random bass notes to highlight the dramatic lyric. On "March," the guitar is treated to sound like some kind of odd keyboard, and the vocal is given a reverb-drenched tremolo. The song is the lament of the month of March, complaining about her new position on the Gregorian calendar. It's one of the most atypical pop songs ever recorded, but it's brilliant in its execution and delivery. "New York" is more straightforward. The City is viewed here as a siren luring unsuspecting friends to their doom. Bragg's melancholy vocal is full of regret and loss, with the processed guitar echoing the sustained notes of a church organ, giving the song a funereal air. Every track glistens with mystery thanks to the low-key production and Bragg's incomparable singing, making this unusual album a pure delight.

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