eathers and Witch musician Asa Irons lends strings and voice to this joint effort with compatriot Swann Miller. It’s a mum’s-the-word artifact, saying just enough to rouse a dangerous and boggling interest. Originally put forth by Irons himself via CD-R in 2003 and ultimately re-released by a subsidiary of New England über-label, Spirit of Orr—Records—on gray swirl vinyl, this self-titled rec was allegedly pulled together while Irons traveled the country, which, considering the eerie transience at its core, is apropos.
The music is terrifically delicate, a frustratingly grounded bird with crippled wings. Irons’s voice is supple and stoned, a benign transliteration of Nick Drake’s unaware existentialism. His string work is brilliantly sparse and apparitional, sounding rich and familiar—an acoustic, struck and strummed in a high-ceilinged breakfast room where whisky and wine bottles litter the table, dead flowers mingling with cigarette butts, meaningful pictures, smudged notes-to-self. Miller’s voice combines seamlessly with Irons’s, effortlessly conjuring fog-filled apple orchards, wartime horrors, overly complicated lives that sound and feel at once familiar and horribly alien.
Yet, underneath all of the beautiful innocence is a subtle and jarring sadness. Jubilant songs are rendered with the feeling of borrowed time; words sung in a whisper that climbs its way slowly to the gallows; guitars working marvelously and mischievously. By the time the program comes full circle, Irons and Miller sound like groaning specters, their voices refusing to die until their grievances are aired and recognized. “Only the chosen ones live with God,” they sing. “Only the chosen ones live with God; leaving the rest of us: walking barefoot ’til froze and dyin’. A tundra of eternity.”
Even when songs are laid bare and to-the-point, they unfold in acrobatic and thrilling ways. Forbidden, tearful love, abandoned and burned-out homes, starched and rippling white linens, the foreign and soothing smells of honeysuckle, bergamot, and the clean, cold wind—still, the imagery abounds. Much like the deceptively simple and inexorably complicated blues of Geechie Wiley or the Reverend Gary Davis, Irons and Miller have created an inspiring and lingering music, with melodies and lyrics that stain the mind and plague the memory, offering no quarter, creating an unrequited love that you never even had.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2007-03-14