Review: Paul Fonfara – Seven Secrets of Snow / Show Saturday
It’s been a few years since the last Painted Saints album, No Match for Greater Minds, but frontman Paul Fonfara has been busy. Not too long ago he found himself touring the UK while simultaneously writing music for the documentary Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus (which was about a Russian/French Clown returning to his homeland in Siberia). Out of that experience came the ideas and sketches behind Seven Secrets of Snow, a new record that explores themes that use Midwestern winters as their central concept. To this aim Fonfara recruited a number of talented collaborators not only from Painted Saints, but Dreamland Faces, Brass Messengers, and Poor Nobodies as well.
The result is seven sprawling tunes, each written with a specific theme in mind, accompanied by beautiful illustrations done in the Russian fairytale style (think Ivan Bilibin). While the Midwestern winter connection isn’t always evident, Fonfara created tunes dedicated to the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Housatonic (the first ship sunk by a torpedo in the Civil War), and Canadian Tar Sands to name a few. The musical style is one that will be pretty unsurprising to anyone familiar with Fonfara’s work or that of his collaborators: Eastern European folk features prominently, as well as shades of music hall, silent film scores, waltzes, and all manner of antiquated music (these guys are old souls if you hadn’t guessed it). It’s elegantly beautiful throughout, and by no means uniform. “2 Miles of Twine” is a whimsical-yet-melancholy-tinged piano piece accompanied by what could only be the ghostly singing saw of Any McCormick as well as accordion (likely by McCormick’s Dreamland Faces partner Karen Majewicz). The instrumental “Magnificent Himaleti” is a full of fluttery woodwinds and guitar, sounding not unlike a track cooked up by Sufjan Stevens. “Handholder” is a downright jaunty mix of brass, piano, and clarinet, and it conjures up vivid images of a comedic silent film that was never made.
With so many talented artists lending their unique touches its no surprise that Seven Secrets is an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable listen. Fonfara and company have undoubtedly worked very hard in their endeavor, and artistically it has most definitely paid off. Financially however is another story – in an effort to raise enough funds to make pay the artists involved for their time Fonfara has created a kickstarter campaign that still has a ways to go towards its goal (you can help by donating here). They will also host an album release show this Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center which will feature the songs from the record as well as projected imagery (tickets here). Check out a couple tracks from Seven Secrets below and if you dig them then come out to support the project on Saturday – with so many talented artists taking part it will be well worth the price of admission.