The Black Swans

Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You?

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The debut album by Columbus, OH's Black Swans is an exercise in spare, sweet melancholy that owes a debt on the one hand to the Tindersticks and on the other hand, to a lesser degree, to the spooky folk music that has inhabited the Ohio River Valley for centuries. Jerry DeCicca is the Black Swans' frontman and songwriter. His acoustic guitar is at the bottom bedrock of the band's sound. Its foremost element, however, is Noel Sayre's violin. Given that Sayre is a classical violinist by trade, he walks a line between the high lonesome style of folk tradition and the more formalized, refined manner of playing required by his profession. Electric guitarist Milan Karcic plays a more atmospheric role here, in the same fashion as Michael Timmins with the Cowboy Junkies. Matt Surgeson's electric and double bassing flutter on bottom, punctuated by Milan's brother Jovan articulating a spare and dirgeful language on drums. Nothing here moves quickly; it's all slow and slower. The band would have you believe the sonics are austere, but they're so melodically rich and tender that they're graceful and nearly elegant. The title track opens the set, and it's apparent from the outset that Stuart Staples from the Tindersticks has had a profound effect on DeCicca's phrasing. And no, that's not a bad thing. Being able to carry dirgelike ballads with purpose and tautness is a skill and DeCicca's abilities are consummate. Lyrically, you already know what music like this is about, but its sources are various, from the child and narrative ballad lineage to the postmodern love song tradition with the elastic impressionism of poets like Robert Creeley and Paul Blackburn as the bridge between them. The entire recording flows from a single fountain and widens into a deep river of sorrowful song. And that's its beauty as well as its curse. The latter is obvious because most people don't like mopey music. But for those who do, Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You is keen, insightful, and moving in the swirl of guitars, violins, and a voice that comes carries within it all the weight and loss of broken love in this world.

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