Widowspeak’s “Almanac” Is A Compendium Of Facts About An Emerging Great Band

When Widowspeak’s eponymous first album was released in 2011, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was that Mazzy Star reunion we’ve all been waiting for.  Robert Earl Thomas was less adventurous than Dave Roback, maybe, though certainly his equal in sonic tastefulness, and singer Molly Hamilton sounded a lot like Hope Sandoval, minus the otherworldliness.  Now they are back with Almanac, and have surer footing, and a more aggressive pace, and we feel confident that the path they are on will take them far.

They make good partners, Thomas and Hamilton, as he shapes the sound with his lead guitar while she holds down the rhythm guitar parts forging the melody with artful phrasing.  Her voice stretches the canvas on which the songs are written across a fairly narrow frame.  Most times a baby doll husk, occasionally it loses all substance and recedes entirely into pretty fog, like Chet Baker playing trumpet on a slow song.  Widowspeak’s limitations, such as there are, emanate from whether one can live on the sustenance provided entirely by vocal meringue, and as we’ve just today heard about a restaurant in Tokyo that serves customers meals containing actual dirt, we have found ourselves nodding, seeking just a little grit, and wondering whether Widowspeak would be more satisfying listened to in longer increments if they emulated that approach.

Pareles used a Velvet Underground reference in his recent nice write up of Almanac, and while a stopped clock is occasionally right, you won’t be surprised that we beg to differ, that we think of Widowspeak less in the context of the VU than in the fourth-degree separation that comes from a young American band actually sounding more like the black ryder’s mutation of a Morning After Girls homage to the Brian Jonestown Massacre, who actually possessed the direct link to that VU sound.  Good company, though, right? More than sounding like Mazzy Star, better than sounding like one more acolyte of the Velvet Underground, Widowspeak reminds us of that magical moment we first heard the black ryder’s Aimee Nash singing with the Morning After Girls, though others will think of Miranda Lee Richards fronting the BJM.

For his part, Robert Earl Thomas is a canny lead guitarist who sounds more delicate on Almanac than he did live last November when Widowspeak opened for Woods at that amazing show at the Red Palace.  When he plays slide, he sounds like David Byrne on “The Big Country,” which of course was an homage to Phil Manzanera playing “Prairie Rose.”  All good lineage, all good music, a band with a future that links to the past — the best kind — and an album we will be listening to, over and over, until they mercifully deliver the next one.

3 Responses to “Widowspeak’s “Almanac” Is A Compendium Of Facts About An Emerging Great Band”

  1. Nice review and beautiful, apt descriptions. Almanac might be my favorite album from January. Check out my review here if you’re interested 🙂

    http://mattneric.com/2013/01/22/reviewed-widowspeak-almanac/

  2. […] voice, and no one would confuse her for Janis Joplin.  As readers of Tulip Frenzy know, we like Widowspeak, but find them wanting, a bit too slight and ethereal, and here’s where Houndstooth’s so delightful: talk of folky pysche notwithstanding, […]

  3. […] pretty, ethereal voice and Robert Earl Thomas’s canny, spare guitar.  We have raved about their earlier work, but also worried that what Hamilton and Thomas too often deliver yields a sugar high.  Earlier […]

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