Though the signature sound of this disc is an interplay of medieval and modern instruments, the sound is far from the solemn chants and perky dance tunes that most people associate with early music. Rather, the oddly phrased songs, Ethan James' mystical lyrics, and Erin Kenney's soaring voice make Tapestries of Smoke a very modern experience. At times, as with the jazz piano and hurdy-gurdy duet on "Isle of St. Detroit," this is music without an anchor in time and place. Though Ethan James plays his hurdy-gurdy on most of the album, some of the most effective tracks feature his guitar and dulcimer work. The tense, dramatic "World of Thieves" is a standout cut, the beautiful viola work from Sue Giordano adding much to the atmosphere. It's safe to say that most listeners won't get the complex classical allusions in the lyrics, but this isn't a barrier to enjoying the album. For those who demand at least one song they can understand, James wrote "Destiny," which Kenney sings in a spare, beautiful style. The sprightly "Chinatown" is a piece of light jazz-pop the likes of James has never penned before or since, with a sweet pedal steel line from the always-awesome Chas Smith. The closing "The Mist" is a pure torch song, a piece of straightforward noir jazz that is simply delightful. Erin Kenney was a marvelous singer for Ethan James' widely varied musical excursions, and on Tapestries of Smoke she made his often-obscure lyrics sound personal and passionate. Unfortunately after this album was released she decided to seek fame in a more mainstream band. That project never recorded anything, and she has released little since then, while James has handled his own vocals on subsequent albums.
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