“Grief, Sir, is the Shadow’s Companion” is an album by Atoka Chase that infuses folk, country, bluegrass, cabaret and rock music. There are two singers in the band who trade off singing lead and harmonize with each other quite well. The album is voluminous and while some of the songs truly shine, the album could use a bit of editing for a stronger, more concise experience.
The strongest tracks feature some great songwriting and delivery. “Tick Tock” opens the album with banjo and melancholic violin before bass and drums slam in and turn what could be a standard folk song into an edgy rock song. There are some great harmony vocals throughout and a nice percussion feature before the final chorus. “Kiss My Woman” is a folk-cabaret song that starts with melodic banjo over tape hiss before transitioning into a minor Kurt Weill via Tom Waits jam. A Louis Armstrong-like trumpet sneaks in between verses and violin breaks.
“Lessons In Blue” features a “Tomorrow Never Knows-esque” bass line and a solo vocal throughout the verses. The chorus slips into ¾ and is an impressive shift in mood. The song concludes in an impressive cacophony of distorted violin, melodic bass and vocal wails. “Devil Makes Three” finds both singers harmonizing and echoing each other and shows how well their voices blend with each other. The song concludes by launching into double-time balancing tremolo violin with a second one inserting melodic lines. “My Father” contains some of the best blend of banjo and violin the album has. The song is very catchy and functions well as a Decemberists-ish pop song. The blend of violin and trumpet is also particularly nice and enhances the chorus before giving way to some distant nylon-stringed guitar. “Abraham” is a blend of “Devil Went Down To Georgia” folk/country and “No Quarter” rock.
“Iron, Blood, and Bones (or The Children’s Crusade)” opens with a Harry Truman quote before moving into a bluegrass stomp with clever lyrics and fierce (occasionally distorted) violin. “Tanning Hide” is a southern roots-y country funeral stomp. There’s some great jazz and grit in the vocal delivery along with some funky bass playing and distant trumpet calls. “Swallowed By Suns” has some rapid-fire violin passages under the chorus and the song concludes with a great half-time feel under ghostly-harmonized voices.
Some of the songs go on too long, however, meandering or repeating some of the same formulas as stronger songs heard before. “Wolfmother Wallpaper” follows a descending minor chord progression a la The Beatles’ “Michelle” or Miles Davis’ “Nature Boy.” The percussion really shines on this track, coloring each part of the verse and chorus with interest, and the clarinet has some nice sustains throughout but the coda that arrives abruptly and feels like fragments of another song rather than part of the same idea. “Jealousy” is a jazzy aside that leans towards “Erie Canal.” The chorus has some interesting cabaret moments but the song never really takes off. “Six Eyes” follows a similar formula to the rest of the album but has some distorted vocals. “Burn The Light” is a cluster of countermelodies and tension that work well for moments but meander for so long that by the time the song opens up it feels unearned. Editing each of these sections even just slightly for length might give greater weight to each part. Still, there is some great guitar tone and innovative percussion on the song.
“The Shadow Rising” has some great bass playing and changes in feel but never quite develops outside of the excellent instrumental passages between verses. “Black Pot” contains some interesting riffs and a heavy fist-pumping stoner-rock groove. The bridge comes out of nowhere, and while it’s a nice break, it’s an awkward transition. The song does return to its folk-metal vibe by the end and lands nicely. “Bury Me” is a catchy song that has a beautiful Dolores O’Riordan-like vocal that is buried in the mix, which might be a joke inspired by the title but is a bit disconcerting.
The album closes with “In The Land Of The Blind” which has a passionate delivery but feels tacked on instead of wrapping up the whole thing. Overall, it would be interesting to hear this as two (or even three) shorter albums with songs that more closely align with each other and can feature some of the variety that the band has (though not always appreciated as sequenced). Still, the parts of the album that are strong really soar.
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