Larkin Grimm

The Last Tree

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Larkin Grimm's second album for Secret Eye shows that her knack for strikingly theatrical songs and performances remains strong. If no album can quite capture the sheer, surprising, enjoyable warmth and vividness of her live work (persuading an audience to howl joyously like wolves is just one small part of it), this is still much more than simply an audio souvenir. Working with a pool of collaborators including family members and fellow singer/performer Lara Polangco, Grimm moves between full arrangements and stark, stripped down efforts featuring just her and her guitar. If the term "acid folk" -- or the even more overused "freak folk" -- is long since starting to wear out its welcome, it's because it doesn't quite capture the blend of styles artists like Grimm bring to bear; it's as much hints of drone and film soundtrack orchestrations as it is unplugged guitar in a dark, mystic landscape. Perhaps it's no surprise that the song lengths themselves vary widely, from barely two-minute long pieces like "The Sun Comes Up" to the over-ten-minute long "Little Weeper," the latter all the more striking for being a vocal/guitar-only number that maintains its focused strength throughout. Grimm's voice is reason enough to give The Last Tree an ear, as she moves from song to song -- or within one -- from soothing reflection to keening, wordless cry. The latter can be heard in strength on the otherwise instrumental "Into the Grey Forest, Breathing Love," a brief but striking collage of everything from dulcimer to, as the credits say, walls and floor. Lyrically too she brings much to bear -- if the words to her live favorite "I Killed Someone" might seem, on first blush, a standard murder ballad motif, phrases like "His breath, it rattled like the call of cicadas" stick in the mind. Perhaps the most intense song on an intense album is "The Most Excruciating Vibe," a (very vocal) portrayal of frustrated lust set against a deceptively serene arrangement.

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