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Album Review

A collaboration between Trembling Bells and Bonnie "Prince" Billy is fitting on so many levels: both of these artists love to dig deep in the musical histories of their respective homelands and come up with something equally fresh and reverent. They do this brilliantly on The Marble Downs, which shows off the finest points of everyone involved while sounding like an early-'70s record collection that was left out in the sun to melt and meld together: raw British folk nestles up against Bakersfield country, while stately brass and acid rock guitars arm wrestle. The opening track, "I Made a Date (With an Open Vein)," is so triumphant and full-sounding with its bold fanfares and solos that it feels more like an ending than a beginning; later on, the tender piano ballad "Excursions into Assonance" sets a Dorothy Parker poem to music that could have come from a parallel universe's Simon & Garfunkel. The Marble Downs' vocals are just as inspired: Will Oldham's voice sounds more vital than it has in some time, even (or especially) when contrasted against the gorgeous clarity of Lavinia Blackwall's tones. They take each other to new heights, particularly on the garage rock tour de force "Ain't Nothing Wrong with a Little Longing," where the gallows humor for a troubled affair finds them trading barbs like "You could have honesty without cruelty/Your brutality was mechanical," and on the trippy chamber pop of "Ferrari in a Demolition Derby," where their lovely harmonies are surrounded by surreal pomp and circumstance. There are songs that sound like long-lost traditional laments, like the gorgeous, heartbreaking "Love Is a Velvet Noose," and songs that actually are traditional laments, such as "My Husband's Got No Courage in Him," one of The Marble Downs' many showcases for Blackwall. It does Oldham good to sing someone else's words — he's especially charming on "I Can Tell You're Leaving," where he sings, "Like Merle Haggard, you'll see the fighting side of me" — but one of the standout moments is the thunderous cover of his own "Riding." The album's celestial closing track, a cover of Robin Gibb's "Lord Bless All," underscores just how rare it is to hear a mix of sounds and artists that is so organic and unforced, and what a beautiful accomplishment that is. The Marble Downs is a cult classic in the making, and if Oldham's involvement helps more people discover Trembling Bells' eclectic brilliance, so much the better.

Biography

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Glasgow's eclectic Trembling Bells were founded in early 2008 by drummer Alex Neilson, an improviser who has played with Jandek, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Current 93, among others. Neilson formed the group in order to explore more structured, song-based music, and recruited vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Lavinia Blackwall (who worked with Neilson in the group Directing Hand), bassist/vocalist Simon Shaw (also of Lucky Luke), and guitarist/harmonica player Ben Reynolds (who played with Neilson in Motor...
Full Bio