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Palo Santo (Expanded Edition)

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Album Review

Somehow managing to be even chillier and darker than before, the reissue of Shearwater's Palo Santo is a vivid reimagining of the initial album. The 12 tracks found on the original have been married with another disc's worth of material, several of the songs have been re-recorded, and a sinister cockatoo now graces the cover where a wintry forest once stood. Palo Santo is the band's fourth album, and it's Shearwater's fiercest work by far. Lead singer Jonathan Meiburg, whose vocals hover somewhere between Jeff Buckley's operatic caterwaul and Antony's heartbreaking falsetto, sounds like a man unhinged — a startling turn of events given the band's previous work, which was more contemplative and, to be perfectly honest, a little limp. This newfound fierceness is warranted. These are odd songs, full of weird abstractions, and they move at the pace of a fever dream. The lyrics can be somewhat insular, especially on tracks like "Johnny Viola" ("If you could ring the sky like a bell/Even such a sound would never suffice"); but Meiburg's urgent howl imbues his abstractions with meaning, giving way to a group of muscular, strangely lit songs that span brave, disturbing heights ("Red Sea, Black Sea") and sprawling, haunted lows ("Failed Queen"). If there's fault to be found with this reissue, it's in some of the additional material. The second helping of "Red Sea, Black Sea" feels just a tad superfluous, if only because the track was so potent the first time around. Not that the extra songs lack any merit whatsoever — there's a stark, raw beauty in the second helpings of "Little Birdie" and "Failed Queen," and a return to these tracks feels justified. Small quibbles aside, the 2007 reissue of Palo Santo is an excellent expansion of the original — it was strange and lovely to begin with, and it's only stranger and lovelier in this new edition.


Formed: 2000 in Austin, TX

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Originally conceived as a one-off collaboration between Okkervil River's Will Sheff and Kingfisher's Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater continues the tradition of detailed, reflective songwriting set by classic artists like Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen and contemporary indie rock songwriters such as Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. The group began after Sheff and Meiburg had known each other for just a week, with the idea that the duo wanted to make an album called The Dissolving Room. The pair exchanged...
Full Bio
Palo Santo (Expanded Edition), Shearwater
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