Oliver the Crow’s self-titled album

cover artCellist Kaitlyn Raitz and fiddler Ben Plotnick perform as the folk duo Oliver the Crow. These classically trained musicians based in Nashville make a progressive, stripped-down Americana that draws on everything from Appalachian ballads to classic rock on their beguiling self-titled debut album. Sober chamber music, lively folk songs, and atmospheric electronica all contribute to their well-honed sound. The nine originals on this 10-track collection contain sharply observed lyrics and adventurous harmonies both instrumental and vocal.

The best of this good bunch are the acoustic rocker of “Sailing With The Tide” and the deeply but subtly layered “Samson.” “Sailing” adds close harmonies to the supremely catchy melody and knockout instrumental solos, particularly Ben’s double-stopped fiddle solo on the second bridge. Here’s a live version that may not have quite the punch of the studio take but showcases the duo’s musical and personal chemistry.

And “Samson.” What can I say about “Samson”? It’s an unorthodox love song rife with Biblical imagery. There are lots of lyrical layers and twists and turns in this one that make it a good choice for a mixtape that you’ll be listening to over and over again.

The album was recorded in just three-and-a-half days in a solar-powered cabin somewhere in Vermont, so it has a vivid, spontaneous feel to it at base. But that acoustic authenticity and spontaneity is combined with production and engineering by the Toronto-based duo Speaker Face, aka Trent Freeman and Eric Wright, who give it subtle touches of electronic effects so it sounds suitably hip and modern as well.

The best examples of the edge this production gives to the music are in the Appalachian standard “Bury Me Beneath The Willow Tree” and the original “Glass.” “Willow Tree” has a slower tempo than you’ll normally hear with this song, best known for its Carter Family versions, with electronic effects added to the Darol Anger-style chop fiddling by Ben and Kaitlyn’s slap-string rhythms on cello. And they’ve applied a cold, glassy reverb to Raitz’s vocals on “Glass,” a sad lament about the breaking of a relationship, with lead vocals by Kaitlyn: “No matter how much I filled up the cup, the glass half empty was never enough, I think we always knew we were walking a line, between a match and kerosene, it was a matter of time …”

I have to also mention the penultimate track “45,” a scathing rebuke to the current occupant of the White House, and the final cut “Bear In A Den,” a delightful Appalachian-style song that allows things to end on a lighter note.

Oliver the Crow is a very self-assured debut by these two talented singer-songwriter-musicians. Recommended for fans of Natalie and Brittany Haas, Abigail Washburn, etc. Listen and learn more on their website.

(self-released, 2018)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.