May 31, 2006

Norfolk & Western "A Gilded Age"

Norfolk & Western is long-running project of Adam Selzer and Rachel Blumberg, who have been known to play behind such talented artists as The Decemberists, M Ward, and Laura Veirs, but that doesn't mean they sound like any of those artists. Their latest release, A Gilded Age, is out now on Hush, and it's a wonderfully. The record begins with a charming and gentle string section, leading into the downcast and slightly bluesy "Porch Destruction." Oh, and there's a banjo in there, too. Homespun as it might feel, it's neither hokey nor ironic--two common maladies of hipster musicians these days. It's to Norfolk & Western's credit that they don't ground themselves in one particular style, either; their music transitions smoothly from morose, weepy folk ballads to more upbeat (dare I say "rock?") fare. The better moments include the disturbing murder-ballad waltz-swing of "Clyde and New Orleans," which features a haunting trumpets (courtesy Desert City Soundtrack's Cory Gray), the accordion-and-banjo driven title track and the wonderfully upbeat "We Were All Saints," which has a fast-tempo, a great guitar lick, and a wonderful vocal interplay between Selzer and Blumberg. In a way, the duo reminds me of a more urbane, less twisted version of The Handsome Family.

Regardless of whether the songs are fast or slow, they're almost consistently beautiful, and that's the most important thing, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. For eight songs on such a great record, A Gilded Age feels somewhat skimpy, but that's a minor quibble. Folk-rock that isn't necessarily folky and doesn't quite qualify as rock? Could be a disaster. But not if it's Norfolk & Western. Great stuff!

No comments: