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The Woody Nightshade

Positive reviews litter the internet for Sharron Kraus’ earlier records and got me excited for her new release, The Woody Nightshade. However, the rave reviews made my disappointment with the album all the more palpable.

It took at least three listens on a really good stereo to really be able to appreciate The Woody Nightshade. To make it easy for you, if English folk music that leans on Celtic influences is what you’re into, this might be just the album for you. That said, if you’re looking for something that is instantly catchy with a firm melody or clean harmonies, then you might want to pick up something else.

The lilting dissonant vocals and random strumming that make the songs on The Woody Nightshade blend together into a cohesive work aren't intended to be experimental as much as a contemporary approach to traditional music. Kraus’ voice reminds me of recordings my sixth grade teacher played in class while we were studying the Medieval period. Her voice is simultaneously clear and indecipherable.

While it’s easy to get lost in the web of stringed instruments and to forget that there are words being sung, there’s a lingering melancholy that bubbles just under the simplistic surface of the entire album. Songs like “Evergreen Sisters” are decidedly haunting and the title track is no different; “The Woody Nightshade” is an eerie tune accompanied by vocals so slow and wandering that the lyrics are nearly lost. For Kraus, though, the form closely follows function. The listener doesn’t need to hear the line about the man she watches as “he looks away” to feel that’s what just happened. Her distant voice deftly conveys emotion.

The fifth song on the album, “Once,” is easier to get into for a first-time Kraus listener like myself. She sings simple lines we’ve all heard and thought, but with a relatable, quiet sadness: “Once there was a love, and that came to an end... Once each other’s touch was the thing we lived for.”

The Woody Nightshade is for careful listeners who are looking for sad songs to get lost in.

Written by: Tatiana Ryckman, January 18th 2011

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