In the liner notes for Stone Breath’s second lp, re-issued last month in an expanded double disk by Hand/Eye, clawhammer banjo player and weird folk visionary Timothy Renner confesses that the album “almost didn’t happen.” Those of you who wish that The Incredible String Band hadn’t stopped producing records like “The 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion” or “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” in the late 1960s will be glad that it did. As a piece of contemporary American music, “Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis,” or “the lantern of the greening light,” feels like a record that could only have come out of a campfire in Brattleboro, Vermont or Western Massachusetts, though rural Pennsylvania comes close enough. The anonymous folk ballad arrangements and the Clive Palmer cover on track 4 say it all: the four members of Stone Breath, like Palmer and Mike Heron before them, are “traditional” folkies at heart, with one foot in Appalacia and one foot in old England. But between yodel sessions for The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, their main project, the group’s search for roots has led them as far as India, Egypt and darkest Peru, splurging on a witchfinder dulcimer, a pan flute, or a sitar for every banjo and 12-string.
There is a good deal of mystical head-scratching here, but Renner, Prydwyn Piper, Sarada, and RA Campbell seem a lot more earth-bound than their Scottish antecedents, favoring repetitive incantations and minimal drone arrangements over flying 180 degree turns. Timothy’s voice lumbers drowsily over everything from last year’s harvest to Christian martyrdom, riding on a constant flow of repetitive banjo and guitar motifs and punctuated by a few candleflickers of harmonium and vocal harmony. With a second disk full of tracks from previous 7 inch and CDR releases, there is a whole lot to digest here, but it is hands down one of most gorgeous folk releases I’ve heard since the Feathers lp—even if it predates that album by a couple years. And perhaps the soundtrack to the salvia trip you never had the guts to take. 9/10 -- Emilie Friedlander (10 December, 2008)