An intense but captivating listen.
Gemma Padley 2008-04-07
Husband and wife duo Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer's 2005 album Songs Of Muerto County inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a (unsurprisingly) doleful affair. A collection of airy lamentations punctuated by pensive fireside musings, it epitomised the cinematic quality for which the duo have become known. This, the Chicago-based couple's fourth full-length record, brings sorrowful filmic alt-folk back to the fore.
I Was A Swallow starts deceptively cheerfully with the hapless, wandering balladry of I Will Know. But there is a nagging sense of unease in Meyer's world-worn vocal, an uneasiness that finds its full force on Gone Too, where intensely harmonized vocals compete with an indifferent yet casually seductive guitar melody.
The tone throughout is one of pained longing. Be My Husband slinks along darkly – almost hypnotically and predatory – while the cabaret infused Low recalls a smokey low-lit bar complete with femme fatale Marlene Dietrich draped across punters' laps. But I Was A Swallow is never over-zealous: many of the songs exude an alluring understated quality amid the disaffection. The wagon chugging Gone transports us back to the railroad days of old; its simple looped guitar sweltering under a blistering sun.
Most impressive are the displaced sonic and visual landscapes that appear across the album. The crackling of a record player and smoke from an extinguished cigarette are discernible if you listen to Merry People with closed eyes. Here, alternating major/minor chords sparkle with a shivering and compelling irony in this mournful tango-tinged track.
While a little on the brief side (I Was A Swallow is just over thirty minutes long), Puerto Muerto's fourth album should more than satisfy fans of last year's double EP, Heaven & Dirt. Unafraid to expose the underside of America's heartland that is so often glossed over by plastic gleaming smiles and 'have a nice day' quips, I Was A Swallow – introspective and at times quietly desperate – is an intense but captivating listen.