Horse Feathers: Thistled Spring Review
The new Horse Feathers record, Thistled Spring (4/20 – Kill Rock Stars) is meant to evoke the “rebirth, renewal, and fragile hope” of the spring season, marking a change from the “frostbitten songs of loneliness and loss” of 2008’s absolutely lovely House With No Home (quotes pulled from the album’s press release). Somewhat predictably principle songwriter Justin Ringle relies heavily on the time honored tropes of the springtime – pastoral songs set to a lush accompaniment of swelling strings – the universal musical metaphors for that season. While it’s a shame that Ringle didn’t venture a little more outside the box, the roots/americana tradition that Horse Feathers’ music falls under is generally one that tends to value history moreso than innovation – and in folk tradition Thistled succeeds in spades. Generally what Thistled Spring lacks in surprises though it makes up for in beauty – dissection side, it is simply a richly produced piece of music.
Throughout Thistled Ringle is notably accompanied by violinist Nathan Crockett and cellist Catherine Odell whose gently deliberate playing style gives the tunes the orchestral tone of a film score. Again the strings are gorgeously arranged and more than adequately played, but they never really take the listener into any unexpected territory. Song after song they produce a score that is very pretty to behold if not incredibly interesting. Ringle’s evocative and eloquent songwriting helps a bit, but as melodramatic as his lyrics get they too never find their way outside the folk thesaurus. It doesn’t help either that Ringle’s soft-spokenness makes him at times difficult to understand over the instrumentation.
Faults aside the album does have some notable achievements such as the epic grandeur of “This Bed,” which implements banjos, strings, and cymbals to build to a beautifully orchestrated climax. “As A Ghost” is also mentionable for its rootsy fiddling which combines with Ringle’s sweetly guileless vocals for a sound that would melt any heart. “Belly of June” is one of the Thistled’s best offerings – with a composition that is more textured and brilliantly nuanced than anything else on the record. And the rest of Thistled sounds quite good too, if not great. Folk enthusiasts out there will find much to love in the lovingly crafted melodies and woebegone songwriting. If you are looking for something a little less conventional though it would be advisable to look elsewhere.
— Jon Behm