3hattrio, “Lord of the Dance”

It’s hard to be new, which is why people so often are new in all the old ways. The three musicians here are being new in the way that Pete Seeger’s folk process describes: taking what you have and doing something of your own with it. Admittedly there are more paints in the box these days than Pete had, including autotune, and 3hattrio use all of it. Unlike some looking to be different, they deploy those paints in a studied, informed way, rather than for the sake of it. They are exceptionally adept musicians, for one, able to bring a raft of skills to the project, as well as a notable gift for arrangement. The electric violin on “Pilgrim” contrasts meaningfully with the acoustic bed it rises above, for example, and there are lots of other examples, too. Rather than sounding experimental, the result sounds purposeful and realized. Across the project, the trio works to bring the listener into the work, rather than to merely disrupt their expectations. And it’s appreciated.

The instrumentals work particularly well. The musicians would likely bristle at the comparison, but they work in the way that Paul Winter’s “Canyon” material does: soundscapes, perhaps, but they are developed insightfully, able to stand on their own as compositions. “Night Sky” is a standout in that regard. It communicates a context—in this case the environment and cultural heritage of the Utah desert—and does it in an affecting way.

Not everything on the album succeeds equally well, and the lyrics are often the culprit. The repetition of the phrase “faith is in our hands” in “In Our Hands” doesn’t develop into anything meaningful. (And, frankly, that’s probably the problem; we might be better off if faith was a bit harder to acquire.) The genre is listed as “experimental” which means “you can’t sing to it.” And it’s true. You can’t. But if you’re looking for something to smoke pot to, you could do much, much worse.  

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