Once A Day

Nick West's reviews for Bucketfull Of Brains and Rock'N'Reel

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Co-editor and publisher of Bucketfull Of Brains since 1996.

Friday, December 12, 2008


TARNATION

GENTLE CREATURES

4AD
CAD 5010cd

This album has been out for the best part of nine months. Of the band who play on here only singer Paula Frazer remains. She's now touring a completely different ensemble under the same name, but not having seen them I'd have to reserve judgement. No apologies though for drawing your attention to this as it was one of last years must-haves, and you might have missed it.

The music has that marvellous quality that draws you close and then starts plucking strings in the memory, but nobody I know has quite been able to define it. 'Ambient Country', 'David Lynch meets the Cowboy Junkies', 'the female Gene Clark'. You know what they mean and none of them are wrong but they don't get to the heart.

And Tarnation do. These are aching songs of regret and loss accepted and embraced. Frazer takes the lead on all but three songs, Her voice, often more folky than country, combines the range and purity of Joan Baez with the raw emotiveness of Patsy Cline. The languid guitar and the ubiquitous lap steel conjure desert landscapes and the sparse often echoed sound acres and acres of desolation.

There are classics songs here. 'Big O Motel', the closest we get to a narrative, 'Two Wrongs Won't Make Things Right', and 'The Yellow Birds' all jump out at you and you know they're going to turn up on other people's records very, very soon. Other portions of lyric embed themselves in your psyche. 'I tow the line on this barge of a heart' from the Matt Sullivan-sung 'Listen To The Wind' has been in my head for months.

Time will show whether this was the classic line-up. Frazer is the writer so if the replacements she has found are good as these we can expect more music of this quality. Otherwise we'll make do with this moment of grace preserved in amber.

(from BoB#46 Aug 1996)

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