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Thursday, June 22, 2006 01:58 am

VINYL STATIC

Freak folk here to stay; India.Arie’s back

SINGLES ONLY: Most alternative genres only have a few good years. The success of an insular subgenre can quickly turn free-spirited tunes into novelty tracks for tacky compilations churned out a few years down the road. But in the case of the variety of music often labeled “freak folk” or “the new weird America,” the genre remains a bastion of originality. Ushered in by notables Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and Espers, it’s characterized by dreamy, sweeping soundscapes or off-kilter folk. The artists are forever tied to the underground. To sterilize the music for mainstream consumption would leave listeners with something sounding vaguely like the work of Joan Baez. Brightblack Morning Light released their self-titled debut on Matador Records on June 20. The duo of Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes and a cast of musicians channel the dynamics of ’60s music and throw out the clichéd. Borrowing from soul, folk, and psych-rock, Brightblack employs a Rhodes piano, the kind used by such soul masters as Ray Charles, and bypasses flowery feel-good-ness. Brightblack pays homage to the era without sounding outdated and tethered to it. From the group’s  biography, Vinyl Static learned two things about this emerging band: (1) The album was written by Shineywater and Hughes while they were living in a tent in Northern California. (2) The first single from the album, “Everybody Daylight,” is a hypnotic escape, the airy vocals like a soft whisper from a ghost and the earthy groove of the drums and bass grounding the track in reality. The song furthers the freak-folk genre considerably, gently pushing aside buzzwords such as “stoner rock.” The band just isn’t that simple.

CD EXCHANGE: The lady India.Arie releases Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, the follow-up to her Grammy-winning album Voyage to India, on Tuesday. During her four-year absence, India’s done some growing, and she plans to impart a little wisdom with singles such as “I Am Not My Hair” and “India’s Song.” Pop in the disk and brew a cup of tea, because it feels as if your best friend is back. India.Arie opens the first weekend of St. Louis’ “Live on the Levee” series with a July 15 show beneath the Gateway Arch that’s supposed to be followed by fireworks — but something tells us that with India onstage, they’ll be superfluous.
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