Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and see the Gaslight Cafe, where Bob Dylan got his start, back in the day? Maybe its the evocative name, so suggestive of flickering shadows on red brick walls - you can practically smell the warm fragrance of roasted Arabica beans, feel the warm vapor of breath and sweat against the chill of the New York winter.
Folk music, at its best, delivers this intimate feeling, of witnessing an actual event, rooted in a place and time. It doesn't fare as well in the ascetic, antiseptic confines of the recording studio, as can be heard on world-music-lite labels like Wyndham Hill or Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios. Something is lost in the translation.
This is part of why the indie/lo-fi folk movement of the 21st century's been so exciting, and so important. Except a band runs the risk of preaching only to the daisy-lidded converts, as the standard record listener just won't take the time to listen through the rough fidelity of home or field recordings.
The Symphony Club, from the Vancouver, BC duo of Jenn Bojm & Khingfisher combines the intimacy and immediacy of traditional folk music (an obvious and redundant phrase), and the folk resurgence of the early '60s with the clarity of modern recording. Not TOO modern, however, as these nine exquisite, hushed, chamber folk ballads were recorded straight to 1/4" tape, before being mastered by Kevin Kowai at Fadermaster Studios.
The Symphony Club elevates that most humble, and maligned, of forms - the cover record. Bojm & Khingfisher's debut re-imagines beautiful works of the folk revival, from the likes of Richard Farina and Emmylou Harris, along with some traditionals like "You Are My Sunshine.”
With warm, close harmonies blending like oil paint mid-air, Khingfisher and Bojm recall the earliest, greatest works of folk masters like early Dylan and, most importantly, the poignant and poetic beauty of Leonard Cohen. For those who've never been able to get past Cohen's (or Dylan's, for that matter) gravelly growl and occasional forays into orchestral synth hideousness (the '80s were a helluva decade), the duo bring the gentility and subtleness of indie psych folk of bands like the Japanese folk band Ghost or Damon & Naomi to barebones, unadorned acoustic gorgeousness.
The instrumentation is wonderfully, beautifully sparse with elegant, restrained single-note nylon string melodies and the occasional flurries of strummed chords. The vocals are clean and clear with blending, mixing and mingling of human voices twining in mid-air being the only post-processing. Everything is mixed and mastered to perfection, making post-production unnecessary.
Folk is often maligned as being escapist, nostalgic and, at worst, appropriative. This leaves us creative types in a bind, as we're left feeling like we're not allowed to take from the past AT ALL. Personally, I suffered from a 20-year writer's block until I finally came to grips with the idea that songs are inherently based on melody, harmony and have their own inherent forms and rules. Key signatures are a thing, as is meter, as is structure. There's no escaping it, or feeling bad about it.
Instead, let's focus on what we WANT, what we're striving for. Let's run the past through our gem tumblers until they glisten. It's one of the secrets of being a creative person, or just a person in general, in 2016. For those of us who get to eat every day, and have access to pretty basic resources, we can achieve such great heights with hard work and perseverance. Rather than "ripping it up and starting again," as the punks would have it, being creative in 2016 is more like reading the entire rulebook, looking for loopholes and time-saving tips.
For those that love the sound of acoustic guitars and beautiful harmonies, this is an absolutely stunning, perfect debut!
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