Never judge an album by its cover art, unless that album was recorded by Horse Feathers. On 2008’s House with No Home, the band sketched a portrait of winter mornings and lonely northwestern nights using string arrangements and acoustic guitars in lieu of paint brushes. A literal portrait graced the cover, depicting the very same scene (snow-capped barn in a wooded clearing, mountain towering in the background, everything captured in hazy focus) that the album spent its time evoking. Thistled Spring follows a similar pattern, its artwork featuring a tangle of tree branches in early bloom. There’s a cautious energy to these ten tracks, a sense that the frozen soundscapes of House with No Home have started to thaw. Songs like “Belly of June” and “Vernonia Blues” hint at a promising season of barn dances and full harvests, and while Justin Ringle still sounds restrained -- he sings earnestly but quietly, as if he’s aware of someone sleeping in the next room -- his band keeps things moving along at an earthy, casual pace. This time out, the band includes violinist Nathan Crockett, cellist Catherine Odell, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cooper, all of whom do an adequate job updating the indie folk orchestrations that former bandmate Peter Broderick brought to the group. Broderick was once as integral to Horse Feathers’ sound as Ringle himself, but Thistled Spring doesn’t stumble in his absence, and the retooled lineup pairs well with Ringle’s warming disposition.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey