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Red Tail Ring Red Tail Ring
Album: Far Away Blues
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

I'm losing count of the number of acts whose music I only get to discover by the time they've reached their third or fourth album - and here's yet another! Fall Away Blues is the Michigan duo's fourth full-lengther, which kinda indicates they must be doing something right by now. And so it proves: for it sure is a beautiful album.

The mesmeric title song, which opens the disc, is so darned magical an experience that it's almost impossible to progress any further without hitting the replay button. It sure sets out Red Tail Ring's stall in one fell swoop, Laurel Premo's wonderful voice taking the lead on her own composition with Michael Beauchamp supplying the harmonies and instrumentation pared down to just fiddle and banjo. This is what Red Tail Ring do so well - channel the spirit of old-time music and its performing modes into a warm and life-affirming sensibility for both feelings and contemporary issues. Michael's composition Gibson Town, for instance, is a stark, wailsome uptempo-bluesy lament, backed by primitive gourd banjo, that bears testimony to the tragic mass shooting in the duo's hometown of Kalamazoo in February 2016. Similarly hard-hitting is Shale Town, Laurel's song of protest at the practice of fracking. Visiting is a masterly expression of memory fractured through the evocation of the spirit of places once visited.

Another of Laurel's compositions, The New Homeplace, backed by just her lonesome keening fiddle (almost like another human voice) and Michael's spectral harmonies, is a compelling personal meditation of almost spiritual intensity that wouldn't be out of place in a Sacred Harp hymnal. Speaking of which, Michael and Laurel turn in a deft clawhammer-backed vision of Wondrous Love and Lay Down Your Crown from that tradition, and equally adeptly turn their interpretive talents to the blues with an updated and expanded treatment of Skip James' I'd Rather Be The Devil that sports a rough, sleazy fiddle line. Michael takes the lead on just three tracks, including his own compositions Lure Of The City and A Ghost Whispers, where his unusual, chilling, vibrato-rich delivery comes into its own. There's a couple of traditional songs here too including a better-than-acceptable old-timey slant on Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies, while the disc's lone instrumental is a skilfully turned medley of the fiddle tune Camp Meeting on the 4th of July and an original by Laurel (/May Day).

Red Tail Ring sure have won me over with this fabulous album, whose haunting quality doesn't fall away in the slightest over its well-stocked 53 minutes. Shame it's appeared too late for my year's-best list.

David Kidman