Various Artists

The Poor Minstrels of Song and the Temple of the Moon, Vol. 1

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A showcase compilation for the circle of bands associated with Tim Renner and his Stone Breath project, The Poor Minstrels of Song is a fine way for the curious listener to hear more from many fine dark/acid folk groups that emphasize strange mystery in both song and performance. Both Stone Breath and solo Renner have a number of tracks demonstrating his excellent abilities for careful and absolute pacing and performance (his solo turn on banjo for "Elzick's Farewell" is especially striking), but he's not the only focus by any means. The Iditarod's various contributions show a sense of space and a deliberation in their performances that suggest as much comfort in the studio as performing, adding entrancing overdubs on strings and other instruments to emphasize the atmosphere of songs like the traditional "Thierna Na Oge." In Gowan Ring contributes three tracks, including "Dandelion Wine -- 1999," which adds just enough strange psychedelic haze to the stately effort, and the piano/vocal mood-out "Two Towers." There's one obvious out-of-nowhere moment that's easily a highlight of the album as a whole: Stone Breath's cover of "Man Should Surrender." Originally done by Pailhead, and as intense and brusque as one might imagine an Ian Mackaye/Al Jourgensen project to be, here it becomes a drone-heavy male/female duet, shorter than the original at two minutes tops but possessed of its own haunting focus. Other covers include Drekka's take on Leonard Cohen's "Minute Prologue" and Prydwyn's lovely rendition of Syd Barrett's "Late Night," as well as Renner's solo take on the traditional "Jesus Gonna Make My Dying Bed," which Led Zeppelin used as inspiration for "In My Time of Dying." Also worthy: the Eyesores' "Shopping Cart," which weds a country/folk twang to a listing of some rather modern artifacts, a neat blend of now and then.

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