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Of the Cathmawr Yards

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Album Review

This is a very weird album, and an ultimately compelling one. The title and the group's name both connect to the Cathmawr Yards graveyard which figures in Dylan Thomas' short story The Horse's Ha, so one might assume that this band was a 21st century British folk revival group with art house intentions, but Horse's Ha hails from Chicago, IL, although there is nothing even remotely Midwestern about their sound. Horse's Ha, which is really Freakwater's Janet Bean and the Zincs' Jim Elkington with a postmodern jazz trio behind them, sure sounds British, a bit like Pentangle on cough syrup. Elkington's songs have purposefully literary lyrics which on more than a few occasions wander off into a kind of slightly darker version of Donovan-land, but it's the pacing here that draws the ear, with Elkington and Bean's well-defined, tense and sultry vocal harmonies working over languidly flowing rhythms that somehow still manage to sound urgent, even at a funereal pace, a bit like a jazzy Velvet Underground playing Donovan songs and trying really hard to not be depressed, but heck, the world is full of flowers, yes, but it's also full of zombies, so it's hard to stay on the sunny side. But that's a good thing here — it's weird, but it works, and it grows on you. The half-asleep lurch of the opening track, "Plumb," which sounds like a long lost and desperate Fairport Convention side, immediately sets the template for the rest of the album, and everything here fits the fabric. "Asleep in a Waterfall" manages to sound happy, sad, wistful, and alarmed all at once, and Bean and Elkington's calm but somehow desperate vocals just click and work no matter what manner of overwrought and netherworld lyrics they're singing. The relentless "Map of Stars" moves in similar waters, as does most everything here. This album works not because of what's being said or sung, but because of the actual sound of it, how it's being sung and played. Somehow, Horse's Ha hits just the right emotional tone and tempo, and the lyrics really don't have to carry much, which is another good thing. Of the Cathmawr Yards is a weird album, but sometimes weird is exactly right. That's the case here.

Biography

Formed: Chicago, IL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Since the group takes its name from the Dylan Thomas' short story The Horse's Ha, one might assume that this band was a British folk revival group with art house intentions, but Horse's Ha hails from Chicago, IL, although there is nothing even remotely Midwestern about their sound. Horse's Ha is really Freakwater's Janet Bean and the Zincs' Jim Elkington with a postmodern jazz trio (Fred Lonberg-Holm, Nick Macri, and Charles Rumback -- three of Chicago's finest improvising musicians) behind them,...
Full Bio
Of the Cathmawr Yards, The Horse's Ha
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