Review: Farewell the Fabled Horses by dirtbird

Dirtbird farewell the fabled horses cover

I have been a fan of Dirtbird since I first heard them play the Guildford Blues and Roots Explosion in 2007. There is something about David M. Lewis’ song writing that demands attention, and this new album is no exception.

For those unfamiliar with Dirtbird let me paint you a picture of their sound. Slow tempos, sparse acoustic instrumentation (usually guitar with the odd peppering of ultra minimal drumming and the occasional heartbreaking cello line) lay the foundation for blues and folk inspired melodies delivered in harmonies with character and emotion.

It’s been 2 years since Dirtbird’s last offering, the sweetly sublime Traveller, first graced my ears. A few years between albums are just the way things seem to work for Dirtbird. It means that what we receive is all cream and that makes for a satisfying listen. Farewell the Fabled Horses sees Dirtbird returning to the 2008 line up of Lewis and Victoria Moss’ gently sparring voices invoking the mysteries of the soul over Lewis’ quintessential stringed melodies, which he executes deftly on guitar, dobro and banjo.

While thankfully still exploring the same terrain as their previous creations, this album is more varied in the musical textures Dirtbird is bringing forth. Lewis is expanding his song writing craft into territories that include less well-preserved folk traditions such as Take Down the Flag’s nod to drone poetry. Black Salvation, while still very Dirtbird, adds a touch of theatricality to their oeuvre with its opening organ and its recurring chorus mantra “You were born in Hell”. The Boat that Wasn’t There finds Lewis strumming for a change but wailing just as convincingly. While the final song on the album, the eerily beautiful, The New World is a gem mined from some future archaeologist’s musical journal on the fall of our contemporary world culture.

David Byrne wrote in his excellent treatise, How Music Works, that context largely determines what is invoked by artists in what they sing and perform, and accordingly what they successfully convey to their listeners. Applying this to Dirtbird, it is clear that what we have here is music for solitude and reflection. These are guided meditations that you can sway and sing along to. Perfect for ear-buds, headphones and solo sound systems cranked loud on remote properties. Dirtbird’s performance space is your inner space. Their music is a meditation – finely crafted and performed looped acoustic riffs that provide the soundscape in which Lewis and Moss’ vocal delivery can soar like a prayer above the landscape of the soul.

As with earlier recordings, Richard Pleasance’s production is beautiful and captures the spirit of the music perfectly. These songs breath like a cold, still winter’s day. Lewis’ voice and words paint the scene of the challenging terrain in front of us. Victoria Moss’ voice and the solo instrumentation, including Kristin Rule’s mournful cello and the odd peppering of slide guitar and percussion, are like touches of bird song in the scene Lewis is painting. While silence plays the essential part of the still air through which these voices travel. Together the landscape these songs inhabit is beautiful yet forbidding, as disarmingly hypnotic as a desert sunrise.

You can listen to and purchase Farewell the Fabled Horses here.

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