Mother Moses is a four-piece folk-rock band that leans heavily on the acoustic side of things. While the cover of Slow the Fire is strange (and just a tad unnerving, in my opinion), the music is both inviting and inventive. The building blocks of Mother Moses are fingerpicked strings, harmonized vocal melodies, and the usual drum and bass rounding out the sound.
Slow the Fire is a collection of slow rustic songs. There are times when songs pick up and gallop, but for the most part the percussion plays a minimal role in crafting the songs overall, save for a few instances where things sort of break into quick fills (like in the second half of “Cage Door Swinging”). The more optimistic tunes use this trick effectively, making the songs crash out of their usual subdued states. The most emphasis lies in the vocals.
Singing duties are split between frontman and songwriter Jon Cox and Ellen Shultz (and occasionally bassist Steve Bunce). Treating the songs like duets, the airy voice of Shultz is an important part of Mother Moses' identity. There's a danger to acoustic acts, where you can't do much to change the tone of your instruments, of sounding hollow. There's a quality to her voice, a faintness that supports Cox's rougher, sometimes sharp performance in a way that makes the makes the entire band sound more full.
When the mood calls for panic or desperation the two change gears and rise above everything else, not quite shouting but getting the emotion across just the same. The title track does this in waves, alternating its verses between calm and panic. The crowning moment comes with “The Eyes of Some” when the duo hit the last chorus and reverse their roles: Shultz takes lead, delivering a dramatic performance, while Cox is in the back with a different set of lines. It's here where the differences between the two are best on display.
Cox's lyrics caught me right away. In the grand folk tradition they're grounded in realism and many of the images he falls back on come from nature. What impresses me is how he can approach a grim subject without going overboard. There's a fair amount of focus put on morality and mortality here, some of it in passing moments. But the songs carry on, rarely losing sight of the overall upbeat atmosphere of the album. It's romanticized in some respects but not so much that it loses its impact. Lines like “what will my ghost say when it's trapped?” (from “Bones and Skin”), “hell is no more than heaven's basement” (from “A Borrowed Window”) and “we are shadows in the sun” (from “Shadows Only Sun”) choose to hint at unease rather than dwell on it. Because of this the ideas feel more real, less like something written to fit a meter and more like someone actually expressing their ideas.
Slow the Fire takes a traditional sound and pairs it with unique writing. There's a lot on display regardless of whether you're in it for the music, the stories, or both.
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