We live in a media age when anything that wants attention has to make a big noise and preferably be a ‘game changer’, whatever that means. But sometimes the music that doesn’t make a big noise is what offers the greatest rewards, and the subtle charms of Jenn Rawling and Basho Parks are definitely worth investigating.
The duo, from Portland, Oregon, released their debut album Take The Air earlier this year and it’s a rootsy, folky affair that showcases Rawling’s vocals and Parks’ melodic, occasionally haunting string instruments perfectly. It doesn’t leave you blown away by a whole new kind of music, but it does sound awfully pretty and the pastoral feel is certainly enhanced by the ‘nature’ references in the lyrics and the sounds.
Whistle Bird, Little Swallow and Lonely Owl (which you can download for free here) all make it clear why the album’s called Take The Air, and while it thankfully stops short of including any whale songs, you can’t help but feel calmed and refreshed while listening to it. Rawling’s voice quite often falls into Beth Orton territory, which is never a bad thing, especially as we’ve been waiting six years for a new album by her.
Her singing and songwriting are undoubtedly the main draw of Take The Air, but there’s definitely an added dimension from having Parks on-board, as his viola and violin playing brings out so much in the background of the very sparsely-produced material. I’ve never been on a springtime walk in the countryside of the Pacific Northwest, but I’m guessing it probably sounds like this.
Of course, the downside of having an album that’s light, airy and pleasant is that it doesn’t grab you by the scruff of the neck and only a handful of songs really stick in the memory, with Oh Delia the most prominent, along with the string-effects driven Whistle Bird (which is kind of a folky version of the first minutes of Free Bird). Much of the rest floats by without making a big impact.
But that’s on the first listen, of course, and a lot of it will surely be ‘growers’ that reward repeat listens. Jenn Rawling and Basho Parks aren’t the kind of musicians you’ll ever hear on mainstream radio or music TV, and nothing in Take The Air will change your life. But not all music needs to do that, it’s just got to make your life that bit better while you’re listening to it. And this is an album that does exactly that. Job done.
- Jenn Rawling and Basho Parks w/ On the Stairs and Alameda – The Piano Fort: 4/6/12 (musicscenepdx.wordpress.com)