The Curios – Pillow Book – Fresh!/Reference Recordings FR-701, 61:41 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
(Nancy Hall – voice, acoustic guitar, dulcimer, ukulele, glockenspiel, drums, percussion, piano; Lee Parvin – voice, piano, Hammond organ, mellotron, Wurlitzer, accordion, harmonica; Marc Games – acoustic, electric guitar; banjo, electric bass; James Kerwin – acoustic bass; Jon Uhland – drum fill; Pete French – drums; Pete Canton – electric bass; Andrew Griffin – drums; Mark Summers – cello; Celia Malheiros – pandeiro, surdo, ganza; Paul Olguin – electric bass.)
The Curios are not exactly unknown. Lead singer and songwriter, Nancy Hall has toured with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Lucinda Williams and Emmy Lou Harris. Bassist, James Kerwin has played and recorded with David Grisman. Within the Northern California folk community, this band is admired and has a loyal fan base. Jerry Garcia, Yo Yo Ma, Michael Bloomfield, Taj Mahal and Stephan Grapelli have all worked with this band. The band members share a passion for creating music that resonates with authenticity and have been together for thirteen years.
Pillow Book represents a variety of observations on life’s struggles, ironies and complexities. Fifteen songs, primarily written by Nancy Hall, boast an assortment of folk instrumentation, gliding across tempos and musical contexts. The album was recorded live with minimal overdubs. The simplicity of economic challenge evokes a sardonic whimsy on “Sailor On A Windless Sea” The bouncy ukulele (Hall), harmonica (Parvin), and skillful bass (Kerwin) work in counterpoint to the drudgery of getting through a week (“Monday’s a coma and Tuesday’s a dirge..”). Hall’s voice has a natural jazzy tone, and carries emotional nuance. “Beautiful” arranged for guitar and piano, allows the vocalist to capture an uncomplicated love ballad in a drifting lyrical outline. The addition of a cello is a nice touch. Relationships are scrutinized on “Sweetness”, as the bridge is augmented by Hammond B3 and electric guitar. The darker side of heartache is explored on the melancholic “Mean Streak (The Knife Thrower’s Wife)”.
The band stretches out on the instrumental, “Pickle”. Evoking the Sixties Brazilian style of popular music, dulcimer, banjo (Marc Games), piano and organ underline the melody. Celia Malheiros helps to define the exotic tone with a modicum of pandeiro, ganza and surdo. “Hollow” shakes things up with a strident rock pace, Farfisa organ and theatrical ending.
The core of the album is the straightforward narratives of the songs. Whether celebrating the prevalence of nature (“Cherries On The Ground”), fidelity (“Always Be Your Girl”), or nostalgia (“Trampoline”), the compositions always maintain an organic resonance, fused by the expressive vocals, and discerning musical coloration. Pillow Book should introduce this group to a much wider audience.
TrackList: Sweetness; Always Be Your Girl; Meanstreak (The Knife Thrower’s Wife); Hollow; Cherries On The Ground; Beautiful; Commit; Trampoline; Harbor; Sailor On A Windless Sea; Man With A Megaphone; Empty; Pickle; Fortress; Back In Spades.
— Robbie Gerson
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