The Crow Mother
Bon Iver. Bahn Evaire. Bonny Bear. Justin Vernon. Whatever the nomenclature, he has certainly received an overwhelming amount of critical plaudits in the past few years. Sure, the music is a comfortable reincarnation of Laurel Canyon folk, but it’s not really that challenging on the whole. To put a finer point on my criticism, I’m simply not a fan of the mythology surrounding the guy and his songs. There’s something off-putting about the idea of a sad, solitary, flannel-clad man writing songs in his little cabin in the woods and then the blogosphere peeing its collective pants over the results.
I find myself much more enamored and enticed by what I hear from Wickerbird on The Crow Mother. As opposed to sorrowful images of autumnal foliage put to a melody, the listener is entranced by bleak illustrations of winter cold as it strips the leaves from the trees, coats the world in white, and freezes the water in the lakes and rivers. The oranges and yellows of fall are swept away by the multiple shades of grey experienced in the winter.
Yes, a similar “cabin in the woods” feel is present, but it’s not of mewling loneliness. Instead, I’m enveloped by this sense of community banding together against the stark gloom of the surrounding world. Songs like “Indian Blankets,” “Druids,” “Tall Rooms,” and “Towertop” evoke the sensation of a family huddled together around the fire, as everyone listens to the tall tales, ghost stories, and legends from long ago told by the elders. Hushed lead vocals manage to pierce a choir-like cloud of ghostly background vocals, while a solitary acoustic guitar plucks and strums the necessary chords to keep everything flowing.
Yet for all of those descriptors, I never get the sense of self-involved self-importance from these tunes. They are elegiac without being funereal, melancholy without being morose. You welcome the quiet and the stillness with open arms and ears, as you seek to be transported to another time or place with the ethereal delicacy of the music.
To get kind of nerdy on you, I can easily imagine The Crow Mother serving as the accompaniment for the journey of the Elves of Middle Earth as they leave Westernesse for Valinor at the end of the Third Age. It is the music of longing for one’s treasured home, even though you aren’t quite there yet, and you’re not quite sure when you’re going to get there. Wickerbird has rightfully neglected to conjure a mythology of how the music was created, and properly focused upon injecting the actual music with those otherworldly tones and ambiance. Fans of Fleet Foxes, Nick Drake, A Weather, Lewis & Clarke, and (yes) Bon Iver will find much to enjoy with this superb record.