Woody Nightshade

Sharron Kraus

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Woody Nightshade Review

by Ned Raggett

Sharron Kraus' fourth stand-alone album, and her first for the Strange Attractors Audio House label, finds the singer/instrumentalist creating another series of rich songs which take their inspiration from older folk forms. In its own way, though, The Woody Nightshade is perhaps her most "in the now" recordings; if the delicate web of arrangements on songs like "Nothing" and "Story" suggests weird, unsettled landscapes and mystic impulses from a rural past, it just as carefully suggests modern elaborations on those feelings. Kraus and her various collaborators throughout -- notably Christophe Albertijn, who both performed and recorded the overall effort -- are a bit more plugged in overall, but if the feeling of the the album is misty folk-rock at many points, it's the folk that still predominates throughout. Kraus' now years-long steeping in the possibilities and forms of ballad forms means her originals could almost be covers: "Two Brothers," a story of courting and hesitant choices, feels like it should be centuries old when it decries how certain emotions never seem to disappear but merely reincarnate. Yet the core arrangement of "Heaviness of Heart" finds her voice given an almost naked, upfront placement as heavy, steady drums, soft bells, and wordless harmonies take up a place in what feels like a vast space around her; the whole thing feels like something that could only happen presently. (Said drums, courtesy of Mark Wilden, play a key role throughout much of the album, giving it a big, booming underpinning that does not drown out Kraus so much as provide a huge lower end for her to soar over, as the title track shows in particular.) The instrumental break on "Once," a soft cascade of plucked instruments with the softest of electric tinges deep below, serves as one of the best testimonies to both Kraus' instrumental abilities and that of her compatriots; it's a standout moment on a lovely album.

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