Thursday, March 26, 2009

Recommended Artist: Arborea

Maine isn't known for its level of musical activity, but that's probably just fine with Buck and Shanti Curran, the husband and wife duo known as Arborea. The couple make beautifully sparse music that belongs in open, quiet spaces - natural, organic, and full of life. It's difficult to imagine music of this nature coming from a crowded concrete jungle or suburban neighborhood, it just feels bred from influences beyond what the big city has to offer. Only recently have I been introduced to the band, but their progressive, unique folk style has quickly won me over. The Curran's have released three records to date, the last of which was just unveiled this month, entitled House of Sticks.

Shanti Curran's voice has been described by NPR's Robin Hilton (a guy you can trust) as "hypnotically beautiful," and I really couldn't agree more. It's a gorgeous, delicate instrument that most of the duo's songs revolve around, with banjo, slide guitar, dulcimer, ukulele, etc. providing spare, yet captivating, backdrops. Though Shanti takes the vast majority of the vocal work, the two share writing, instrumental and production duties on all of their records, preferring to complete the recording process entirely by themselves.

House of Sticks, released on March 3, compiles a few of Arborea's previous tunes along with some new material in a striking collection of eight songs and just over a half hour of music. The record opens with the rolling banjo line of "River and Rapids," which crescendos slowly, adding hand claps and muted percussion as the pace increases before fading into the gorgeous"Beirut," my personal favorite on the album, where Shanti's ethereal voice simply entrances. Other highlights include the slightly groovier "Alligator" and the lovely "Onto the Shore." Occasionally the album swerves into much more experimental territory, like the simple instrumental tune, "Look Down Fair Moon," or the subtly shifting "House of Sticks," but while these tracks may be less immediate, they end up just as fascinating as the more straightforward songs after a few spins.

Make sure you get yourself introduced to Arborea if you haven't already. A good place to start is at their MySpace, where you can hear several of their songs, or head over to NPR to read Mr. Hilton's take on the work of these excellent musicians.