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Kacy & ClaytonKacy & Clayton
Album: Strange Country
Label: New West
Tracks: 10

This sure is an extraordinary record, a strikingly individual one that sings its songs in a most persuasive voice. It also inhabits a decidedly strange country, for all that it really does sound like it could have been made in 1965 or 1966. It contains (often quite vivid) echoes of vintage psych-folk, early electric folk and obscure country-folk and old-time, everything from the Carter Family to Gillian Welch via the Incredible String Band, beatnik-folk, Elektra and Village Thing labels, early Fairport, Pentangle and the Fariñas, and even on to the Handsome Family… and yet it’s been made by a latter-day Southern Saskatchewan duo – second-cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum – who thrive on, indeed pride themselves on, their remoteness from “civilisation”.

Their knowledge of music has been gleaned from rare vinyl picked up at stores, and from tapes supplied by family members on long car journeys – these experiences spawning a thirst for all manner of folk musics and traditions, from the study of which sources they’ve created their own songs as a way to understand their own common ancestors and their heritage and stories – to which they display an uncannily intuitive response and empathy. Any hint of the intimidatingly parochial can be dispelled however, for the manifold conjured resonances dig deep into the listener’s psyche and really connect. This close connection is achieved by the darkly creative, and significantly spellbinding, combination of Kacy’s distinctive, supple, sweet-toned croon set against Clayton’s tremendously hypnotic filigree fingerpicking.

This intimate, stripped-down blend is cradled in a keenly unearthly studio ambience by producer Shuyler Jansen and gently layered by incorporating some telling, if sometimes slightly eccentric added textural embellishments from guest musicians (vibraphone, string trio, bass, drums, triangle) alongside Clayton’s autoharp, melodeon or 12-string, electric or steel guitar and Kacy’s very occasional fiddle and 12-string. The overall effect, despite the clarity of parts, can be woozy and even mildly hallucinatory, as on the waltzer If You Ask How I’m Keeping. Similarly, Down At The Dancehall takes cajun squeezery into a winding, tempo-shifting scenario to characterise Kacy’s dreamy reverie.

But the hallucinations start with the title track which opens the disc – a defiant prison-cell meditation. But there’s arguably a more down-to-earth feel about the deftly drifting Springtime Of The Year, which recalls the work of Sandy Denny with the Strawbs, and the skewed stompin’-ragtime-inflected murder ballad Brunswick Stew, while Kacy & Clayton’s account of Seven Yellow Gypsies (one of three traditional numbers reworked for the record) is string-bendingly fresh, and genuinely invigorating in a rather Shirley Collins & Davy Graham (as in Folk Roots-New Routes) way. The Plains Of Mexico turns out to be a rollicking take on the shanty Santiano, done in a spirited call-and-response arrangement. The album’s final track, and almost its longest at just under four minutes, is the supremely eerie, keening, sinister-gothic Dyin’ Bed Maker. It simultaneously and compellingly invokes a really potent atmosphere of tradition and what might be termed a contemporary vintage antiquity, setting the seal on a deceptively simple yet surprisingly complex musical experience that’s both highly distinctive and seriously unforgettable. And demanding of immediate replay

David Kidman