Carolina outfit Cranford Hollow, led by vocalist/songwriter John Cranford, has
impressed countless listeners and live audiences since their 2011 debut and
their evolution from a relatively traditional minded outfit into what they are
today is one of the most satisfying artistic paths any band has taken in recent
memory. Their latest album Color/Sound/Renew/Revive is an aptly titled effort
because it is a collection full of vivid sonic moments refurbishing
long-standing traditions and breathing new life into forms and artistic
characteristics many erroneously believe to be moribund. John Cranford and his
band mates prove there is plenty of creative life left yet in the whiskey and
blood, kick out the footlights tradition initially bringing them together and,
moreso, the possibilities of the form are far from exhausted. This is essential
listening for any lover of Americana music and, moreover, anyone excited by the
potential it still holds to touch the human heart.
is an excellent opener. Cranford Hollow is a band who isn’t afraid to tweak
your preconceptions about what traditional instruments can do in a modern
context and, moreover, use atmospherics to memorable effect. The opener starts
with a hint of the epic, even progressive, bleeding in along the edges, but soon
settles into a comfortable stop-start groove. “Long Shadows” kicks off with a
fiddle and vocal fanfare before settling into another compelling groove. Lead
guitarist Yannie Reynecke makes a first class six string partner for John
Cranford’s second guitar and their exchanges show a patience of development few
guitar tandems exhibit in this genre. The rhythm section is another strong
point of this performance, but it’s Eric Reid’s violin work that makes the
strongest foil for Reynecke and Cranford’s guitar playing. “Bury It Down” is a
much more straight-ahead Americana number than the album’s first two songs and
the acoustic guitars ably support Reynecke’s twangy lead guitar touches.
Cranford’s vocals are notable here, as elsewhere, thanks to the lyrical content
but, predominantly, the blood and gravel delivery that retains immense
musicality despite the rough hewn texture.
Hollow returns listeners to their modern approach with the song “And Your,
Brutis”. This has a distinctive, signature touch and has a sturdy radio-ready
sound that will win over casual fans and devotees alike. Despite its sleek
construction, the song reeks of authenticity and it’s one of the strongest cuts
on the album. Drummer Randy Rockolata’s patterns on “North” gives the song a
lightly propulsive touch different from many of the album’s other tracks, but
it bears the mark of the same current approach fused with the band’s
traditional strengths. “Dark Turns”, the album’s sole instrumental, is a bit of
a surprise for a couple of reasons. Newcomers may not expect a band with such
obvious vocal and lyrical strengths to indulge in such fare and it comes late
in the proceedings. It sets up the album’s final track, “Swing”, quite well.
The last cut is a surprisingly exultant number, not free of Cranford’s typical
lyric concerns, but nonetheless muscular and reaching skyward. Rockolata’s
drumming is a key for this song’s success and the guitars play off quite well
against his the pace he sets. Color/Sound/Renew/Revive solidifies Cranford
Hollow’s standing as one of the best bands working in their field today and
shows, five albums in, their creativity and chemistry is far from exhausted.
doesn’t always strike. The world is full of songwriters who, despite
discernible talents, never find the right collaborators or creative
circumstance to fully express their artistic desires. More often than not,
generations of original musicians and otherwise come and go without any leaving
a lasting mark beyond audience memories. When two songwriters find each other
and strike up a productive creative partnership, the effect is noticeable. The
sum becomes greater than the value of its parts and things reach a place
unavailable to them individually. Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown met in the
early years of the century and quickly struck up a songwriting team who pitched
material to a variety of performers in a wide array of styles. They soon chafed
having to subvert their own musical ambitions to the demands of the marketplace
in such a way and opted, instead, for recording their songs together as a duo.
The latest release from the tandem, Tapestry of Shadows, is a full length
studio effort ranking among their finest and proof of the abiding chemistry
they established long ago.
definitely write and record in an Americana vein, but there’s the compactness
of pop songwriting imposed over their vision and it makes for an excellent match.
It is a fortunate twist of fate that Humphrey and McKeown’s voice strike up
such obvious chemistry – they confidently ride the numerous peaks and valleys
of the song’s trajectory without ever betraying an obvious misstep. Some of the
album’s other material is just as mine, but a little more retro minded. “Better
Day” has some of the same pop leanings as we heard on the opener, but they are
more muted here in favor of a bluesier approach. The duo’s words are on point
throughout and “Better Day” is one of the more effective examples of how they refine
longstanding themes with their own style. The light lilt of “Someday” sets up
another lyrical instrumental turn but the vocal arrangement is equally melodic.
Understatement, once again, is key.
singers’ duet over some scattered flashes of violin and delicately wrought
acoustic guitar work throughout the entirety of “Sasha on the Carousel”. The
vocal melody is among the album’s finest and difficult to soon forget. “Passing
Shadows” has a surprisingly hard charging snap thanks to its percussion and quickly
builds a tremendous amount of barely restrained energy. The duo structures “You
and I” around some more string instruments and, primarily, some beautifully
evocative piano work. The gut wrenching exchange between Humphrey and McKeown
on this track comes at an excellent place in the album’s running order and
leaves a mark. There’s a number of songs included on Tapestry of Shadows that
certainly lives up to the melancholy implied in its title, but the clouds
musically break on the finale “Sunshine Today”. The effect is never crass
however. There’s a genuine sense of hope emerging from this final song. It ends
the album on a much appreciated note and rounds out listeners’ possible
experiences in hearing this.