BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN
Blue Roses • Blue Roses (2009)
Laura Groves, the woman behind Blue Roses, presents a beautiful, feminine contribution to the folk-influenced albums that have recently flooded the alternative music scene. In this brilliant debut, Groves sounds like she is from a different era. At times, accompanied by a simple guitar melody, she is reminiscent of a minstrel; at other moments, her clear, ringing voice sounds baroque and operatic.
Groves is not your average singer-songwriter. While this album is personal, it is not full of indulgent navel-gazing. Instead, Groves muses on the joys and angst of life poetically, incorporating emotions into a larger narrative of literary tropes, which include such figures as the cowardly liar and the wounded lover. In “Greatest Thoughts,” she presents her emotional defenses in medieval imagery: “This is the fortress that I’ve built, it’s cold and uninviting/ You stumbled on its stones last night/ Beneath the trailing ivy.” In the last song, “Untitled,” she describes the loneliness of lost love: “My best friend is a ghost that flies at me when I wake up alone.”
While her haunting voice and lush images penetrate the album, her songs are instrumentally diverse. Some songs are accompanied by a simple piano melody. Others, such as “Does Anybody Love Me Now?” are set to a harp, and “Rebecca” is carried by an alt-rock beat. The catchiest song on the album, “I am Leaving,” is a tapestry of guitar, harmonica, and twinkly synthesizer. The song itself is about leaving home to wander the world, a theme that is equally relevant to restless youth as it is to wandering troubadours. Groves’s delicate weaving of the private with the epic makes this album a triumph.
Half-handed Cloud • Cut Me Down and Count My Rings (2009)
John Ringhofer, the singer and musician behind this one man-band, is known for his ability to produce super-short songs. Each of 46 songs on this compilation of previous releases carries a brief and neatly packaged message in the form of what can only be called a ditty. As a self-professed Christian, many of his songs incorporate themes from the Bible, but not in a moralistic, didactic way. Instead, he intersperses obscure Old Testament references with modern ideas in quirky ways. In “Winding,” he describes the parting of the Red Sea, observing, “sheep slept on the flatlands, working on their suntans.” While his little songs are witty and cute, there is an earnestness that comes through. The album presents a picture of someone passionately trying to figure God out.
Ringhofer manages to combine an impressive and idiosyncratic array of instruments – including a trombone, a particleboard guitar, a banjo, an air organ, and a Casio beat machine – to create music that is surprisingly simple. Despite the assortment of sounds and the mix of influences evident in the lyrics, everything comes together effortlessly.