erasing clouds

Preserve Volume One

reviewed by dave heaton

For some reason listening to Preserve Volume One - a compilation of unreleased and rare songs created to benefit the conservation group the Carnivore Preservation Trust - often makes me think of the three Acuarela Songs compilations released by the Spanish label Acuarela. Perhaps I relate them because of the stark cover designs, the late-night atmosphere, or the fact that they share a few of the same contributors. But what they have most in common has more to do with quality than surfaces; like those collections, Preserve Volume One spotlights an absolutely stellar assortment of musicians...and perhaps best of all, the musicians all contribute truly exceptional songs.

In fact, as much as I love those Acuarela collections (and I do...), Preserve is almost better, because it has conciseness and variety as well as quality. It's remarkable enough that a 77-minute collection can give the impression of conciseness. But then there's the way the CD maintains an overall mood of introspection and beauty while featuring bands that come from different places musically. It's a wide enough umbrella for a gorgeous, quiet Norfolk & Western folk song to come before a full-on, Grifters-like blues-rock song from TW Walsh, for Poem Rocket to build up a brooding sort of intensity right after M. Ward and Mike Coykendale deliver a turn-of-the-century summer-afternoon jazz tune.

The collection is bookended by two dream-like hymns with animals in their names: The Decemberists' "Like a Lion" - which with its sparseness, drum machine and samples will make listeners who've type-cast the Decemberists as antiquarians do a double-take - and the light-as-air "Remember The Tiger" by Shearwater. Both of those songs are filled with close-to inexpressible emotions, a sense of loss and a natural beauty, as are the rest of the songs on Preserve. Those are fitting qualities for an album supporting an effort to save natural beings and environments, but also great qualities for powerful collection of songs.

The line-up on Preserve Volume One includes a number of groups who deserve so much more attention than they're getting, which makes the collection a good cause in more than one sense. Edison Woods contribute their delicate but soulful ballad "Shirts for Pennies," one of the highlights of their great Seven Principles of Leave No Trace album. Canadian one-man-band Snailhouse emerges with the poetic, melancholy love song "Witches and Snowmen." Jim Yoshii Pile Up offer a characteristically intriguing three-minute epic called "Burning Flag." And so on....there's songs by The Winter Blanket, Ben Davis Denison Witmer (perhaps the best song I've ever heard by him, actually - a really lovely hope for forgiveness), and more. It's a CD that'll probably slip past people but shouldn't; it'll likely introduce anyone to great musicians they're not familiar with, but even better than that, it's a stand-alone creation with its own unique, tender mood.


Issue 27, October 2004

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