Tam Lin is not a singer-songwriter of Asian descent but "a Scottish ballad about a man taken in by the Queen of the Fairies." It's also the musical baby of Paul Weinfield, a New York-based musician and frontman for the band Tam Lin who has been at it for coming on a decade now. Medicine for a Ghost the band's fifth album, whose folk heart is embodied by a multitude of other genre influences.
"Flame Within the Sun" gives listeners a taste of what to expect, which of course is the unexpected. Weinfield's voice seems made for storytelling, able to affect an airy lilt or copper-toned drawl. The music matches Weinfield's versatility with acoustic and electronic elements. The synthetic drone in the background and hollowed drumbeats give the song an acid western vibe. The lush sound colors run deeper once the cello appears to let us know all is not well within this track's world, even with intriguing lyrics like "I see love is not a woman or a man."
There are so many influences in a single track. "But can they sustain?" I asked myself. My answer was yes long before the final piano note faded in the hullabaloo closer, "Ship of Light.” The title track's mood is much more bittersweet and misty-eyed. Due to the autobiographical lyrics? "They say, “Paul, you deserve that most, / but you give all your medicine to a ghost." And keep in mind this happens during a cello's moan and chopsticks percussion. "The Leopard," by contrast, sticks with heavier instrumentation, with thicker drumming, a sharper focus on guitar riffs and Weinfield dramatizing his voice for glamorous deliveries. "When the jungle gets hungry it eats itself / When the jungle gets tired it wets itself / When the jungle gets angry it cuts itself."
You can't even really split the album in half to make reviewing easier since the songs are so different. "The Other Life" is a bit more drab than its predecessors, but boasts boastful lines like "My name is Quetzalcoatl." "Flowers of Hell" sounds of backwoods urgency, revolving around a drum pattern only a paranoiac would be comfortable with. Then there is the comparable cheerfulness in the penultimate "Phoenicia," with its smile-inducing bridge led by a trumpet, unfortunately the only instance on the album where it appears.
I suppose that could be the only downside to an album featuring such creativity: what should I be looking out for? I found myself listening for instances of instrumental appearances and was sometimes let down. Not to say the album is a mess; Weinfield's vision is attractive not only for it's lush expanse, a practical need to infuse what he can into his band's sound, but also for it's coherence in the face of such expansiveness. This is the sort of relentlessly adventurous folk music we need more of, to remind us of our roots and the directions they can grow.
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