The emphasis on a more haunting and moody take on folk music in recent years, whether derived from the continuing influence of bands like Current 93 or the overall revival of interest in the style thanks to folks like Ben Chasny and Devendra Banhart, continues to turn up in trumps on many fronts. On her follow-up to Ballads of Living and Dying, The Saga of Mayflower May, Marissa Nadler sounds beautifully mysterious, a reflective voice that sinks gently into the mix while delivering sometimes unsettling and sometimes warm lyrical portraits of everything from long-standing friends to Celtic tale-tinged romances. Her singing is often the key emphasis for her songs, with the music mostly being a quick-paced, delicate bed; Brian McTear and Amy Morrissey's production adds a spare tinge of reverb to establish even more depth. Favoring a higher register that inevitably calls to mind legendary figures like Sandy Denny, Nadler turns in some lovely performances that at their best bring out the drama of her lyrics very well -- "Mr. John Lee (Velveteen Rose)" is one highlight, her portrayal of an emotional triangle delivered beautifully. The flow of the album is such that the songs can almost blend into each other, but that makes the changes all the more noticeable -- when she performs in a slower tempo on "Yellow Nights," the song exactly at the middle of the album, the effect is of a reflective pause for breath, carried out very well at that. Nick Castro contributes a couple of memorable guest appearances -- the tin whistle on "The Little Famous Song" is a treat -- while McTear adds Hammond organ at points to flesh out the dreamy feel of some songs, but otherwise it's all Nadler's show, and a fine job she does.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett