Winter Farewell

Norfolk & Western

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Winter Farewell Review

by Stanton Swihart

Winter Farewell is, in effect, the first genuine collective Norfolk & Western band effort, featuring mostly ensemble performances and production and at least a half-dozen co-writing credits. It is also every bit as strong as -- in fact, even stronger than -- Centralia. The album retains essentially the same template and basic sound as its predecessor. The resonant, organic production remains intact and it possesses and maintains the same beautifully somber mood. Winter Farewell, however, improves on previous efforts in several key ways. The production is even more diverse and engrossing, the playing is more cohesive, and the album as a whole is more conceptually unified. Essentially folk-based, the majority of the music has the air of a vintage attic heirloom. Like the painted portraits of Civil War soldiers that decorate the CD package, it is often reminiscent, in an aural sense, of old sepia-toned photographs from an earlier era fixed into scrapbooks by yellowed tape. It seems to exist somewhere outside the constraints of time. Tony Moreno's manipulated instruments and soundscapes and Raymond Richards' breathing pedal steel runs give many of the songs their ghostly ambience, an impression of layers of dust, as if they have arisen from the ashes of field recordings, which isn't entirely removed from the truth. Snippets of handheld recordings are indeed used, while lovely bits of banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, organ, harmonica, snare drum, and other assorted instruments dot the album and add to this rustic, aged atmosphere. If you were to listen only to the surface quality of Adam Selzer's vocals (when, that is, they are even present), you might get the same impression. His singing, detached from the words, conveys a sense of desolation and displacement. But, though the lyrics and lyrical themes themselves are at times disembodied and dream-like, they are also personal, specific, and intimate, directing a thread of present-day themes through the songs. In any event, the writing is superb, and in any era, Winter Farewell is a glorious, hallucinatory piece of work.

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