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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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The Dirty Three
Touch And Go

The music of the Dirty Three has always sounded as though it were spawned in broken bedrooms, tucked away nooks where dreams, like echo chambers, foster earthquakes of their own. Fourteen years come and gone, with the fields of many musical groups having since been lain fallow, this Australian trio still wring an earthly romanticism from their beloved instruments — the difference this time around being that their gamut is decidedly more broad, with, in addition to the usual violin, guitar and drums, mandolin, bouzouki, organ, piano and bagpipes all taking up lodgings in these rustic compositions.

The music is episodic, slyly repetitious, simultaneously lulling and disruptive. Sea-shanty rhythms, pious guitar murmuring and the dizzying glissandi of Warren Ellis' violin cue fond memories of Whatever You Love, You Are, yet here the arrangements are far less frictional and loose. On "She Passed Through" and "This Night," in particular, a buzzing rhythm section, augmented by strings and horns, lifts the caustic mood. This album more than any other swiftly dispels the notion that the trio are condemned to register wary introspection through brooding atmospheres.

The album opens with broad bow strokes and Jim White's skittery way with percussion, fashioning in a mercurial cascade of images, stumbling and melting in their own internal dreamlike logic. These rattlesnake shakes, fair-skinned guitar tones and vacillating violin lines lock arms in the latter portion of "She Passed Through" and dance in a most exultant manner. Other works are more angular, gritty, rock-oriented pieces that one could very well imagine performed in a Celtic pub some late night. Adorned with fractured folk instruments and loops of nagging insistence, the upbeat "Doris" presents a drunk, sensual glint in its clip-clop rhythms and scratchy chromatic falls.

Whereas previous efforts would have snippets of silence woven through the sounds, creating a supple, airy web, even this album's calmest moments are fluid and manage to find an uplifting balance between winsomeness and acridity. And though most moments establish a pleasing drift, the truly standout ruminations that were to be found in past efforts (e.g. "I Really Should Have Gone Out Last Night" on Whatever You Love, You Are and "The Restless Waves" on Ocean Songs) are absent. For all that, as on most Dirty Three albums, the environment in which the recording took place (a beach house in Sutherland Bay this time) itself plays a part in the proceedings, endowing moments with a resonant, rich space for the action to unfold.

Chan Marshall (of Cat Power) also lends her full-bodied yelp to "Great Waves," the first Dirty Three song in which a human voice takes the stage. Rather than distastefully distracting from the swaying textures, Marshall's voice accentuates and carries forth the melodic shards, hacked out on indigenous stringed instruments, so well one wishes her participation might have been more frequent. As it stands, her presence is but one endearing aspect of an album that clearly searches for alternatives. By not recognizing their ends as absolute, Cinders finds the Dirty Three stretching their arms out once more, finding lovingly sculpted spaces that are easy to admire.

by Max Schaefer

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