Cold nights roll in during the early parts of spring, reminding us that we're not quite out of the woods yet; there is still work to be done. The contrast of warm, sun-filled days and nights where you can still see your breath is a microcosm for what we all consistently feel in our lives. It's the temporary gratification and beauty that keeps us hopeful, but the desolate darkness that keeps us honest. Valerie Webb and Paul Lebrecque offer up ten meditations on this consciousness divided.
"Trees, Chants, & Hollers" is a magical ride through thick and thin. It's the culmination of knowing that in order to reach the place you long for, you have to do the dirty work first. Webb's angelic voice lifts the spirits of the record, offering a delicate balance to some of the more workmanlike music. These two forces work as a brilliant partnership as a banjo that finds itself high in the leaves of majestic oaks, searching for the haunted flute squeals that float overhead. This is embodied perfectly in "High Country Jig," where Webb's voice seems just out of reach, but always present. It reminds me of the days when I was a kid and I would spend the entire day, dawn until dusk, outside in the warmth of Mother Nature's arms.
But these moments don't last forever. This much we should have learned by now. On "The Valley," the warmhearted kindness is replaced with fear and despair. Lebrecque joins Webb on vocal duties, and in conjunction with his great banjo playing, I am reminded of the mighty Timothy, Revelator. There is a distinct connection between Timothy, Revelator's music and Paul and Valerie's. "The Valley" is like the journey down; down to where exactly, remains to be seen. But with recorder notes changing from pleasant to disdainful, and the pace of the song seemingly getting more rapid, it is like an aural snowball effect. By the time you realize the downward velocity, it's too late to stop. As you continue picking up speed, the skies darken and you fall directly into the 7 1/2 minute rumination, "An Acre of Stone (for Rachel Corrie)."
"An Acre of Stone" is the highlight of "Trees, Chants, & Hollers." Dense, low-end drones for the basic foundation of the track, while a solemn drum keeps a slow, steady beat. Spiritual graces flicker in the distance, but this night will be spent fending off your own personal demons. This track is the full embrace of the above prescribed scenario: hope trying to abstain from being done in by darkness. Lebrecque and Webb are in full-flight on "An Acre of Stone," and it segues into "Amish Nights" wonderfully. That is a reoccurring theme on "Trees, Chants, & Hollers": all of these songs melt perfectly into each other. "Trees, Chants, & Hollers" has cohesion that most albums only dream of.
By the time you reach the lost edges of "Swift River Blues," you are spent. You've been on a long journey, searching for yourself within the confines of light and dark. "Trees, Chants, & Hollers" offers up a spiritual journey intended to explore differences within a strict set of confines. Like Timothy, Revelator, this album uses banjo as its main instrument of choice. That gives it an organic feeling that pervades each rift and crevice. This is a beautiful, dense album in so many ways; it offers up something new with every listen. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)