Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Somewhere between the chilly isolation of Bon Iver and the cool introspection of Elliot Smith lives Jason Ringle of Horse Feathers. Actually he hails from Portland, Oregon but you know what I mean. Tonight he and his touring band were in Manchester at Dulcimer in Chorlton as part of a short European tour. Last year's album from Horse Feathers 'House with no Name' augmented Jason's sparse acoustic folk with strings and atmospherics. And delighted to say these were here live with cello and violin accompanying the acoustic guitar.
This creates a chamber-folk sound which is perfect for intimate venues like this, moving from moments of serene beauty with a haunting space between every word or solitary chord, to more intense playing with violently plucked strings or a foot stomping on a tambourine to provide rhythm. The band claimed they had trouble getting their instruments warmed up but they certainly hit stride towards end of set: 'Heathen's Kiss' played with bowed saw was dramatic and moving. Jason can resemble Bonnie 'Prince' Billy in appearance - thick of beard, bald of pate, but slightly shorter and squater. You could draw similar musical comparisons but Horse Feathers manage to mark out their own territory and it was a joy to spend some time in their space.

Earlier that evening, Animal Magic Tracks (aka Frances Donnelly) had started the evening. At first she appeared to be a straight up folkie, finger-picking her acoustic and keening with the best of them. But putting down guitar to play haunting chords on keyboards to a soundtrack of clanking chains (or that's what it sounded like) on a small mp3 player showed another side to her. Easy to see why Fence Records have signed her - traditional folk stylings that take abrupt left(field) turnings.

If Frances was a bit reticent tonight - she kept apologising for tuning up in public and was clearly nervous - Men Diamler was not. He starts the set hunched over his acoustic with the microphone close to his bowed head. But he soon abandons the closeness to the microphone - and even the microphone. For some songs he stands and stomps, for others he goes walkabout in the small crowd.
What starts as folk-blues veers from a comic song about a horse (sung almost in the style of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta) to covers of Fats Domino and Jacques Brel. He asks the crowd if they want a depressing song, a happy song or a play school song. The latter wins the public vote but in his set he gives us all three. There were CDs from Men on sale but surely the point is to see this performance live?


Horse Feathers
House With No Name [BUY]

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