Saturday, July 10, 2010

Album Review: Dakota Suite – This River Only Brings Poison

I’ve started typing a review of this 2003 album several times, and then scrapping it. It’s an album I’m finding very difficult to write coherently about. Which is not to say I don’t like it. It’s probably Dakota Suite’s most complete work, certainly in the conventional ‘rock’ music setting anyway.

Mainman Chris Hooson travelled to San Francisco for a portion of this album, recording with Bruce Kaphan (pedal steel) and Tim Mooney (drums) of American Music Club ‘fame’. There is prominent pedal steel on several of these tracks. The album opens with The Lepers Companion, which features the aforementioned instrument over a slow tempo and Hooson’s languid vocals, setting the template for what is to follow. Boats in a Sunken Ocean is driven by horns and features some prettily strummed guitar.

Most of the instrumentation on the album is quite subtle. Guitars are plucked rather than played, with touches of piano, steel guitar here and there as adornments, as opposed to fighting for dominance. Let’s Share Wounds is one of the busier songs, with electric guitar and harmonium, and there are couple of great duets featuring the vocals of Laura Donohue (Sand Fools The Shoreline, How Safe We Must Seem). The second of these is particularly strong, acoustic guitar overlaid with Kaphan’s soaring steel guitar.

The album is also notable for some palate-cleansing instrumentals (Finished River, Verdriet, Matching Eyes and Hands) usually featuring piano, and occasional strings, harmonium etc.

The Ferris Wheels of Winter is one of the longer tracks at seven and a half minutes. It sounds like sunset, with piano and guitar ‘hammer-ons’ to the fore, before glorious mariachi-style horns come in for the chorus. It continues in this vein till just before the end where we get a great coda of David Buxton and Hooson’s intertwining guitarpicking.

It’s the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon.
Ideal circumstances to listen: Around 3.30pm on a warm yet overcast Monday afternoon in August, when you’re supposed to be somewhere else but in fact you’re having a peaceful afternoon at home.