Black Prairie’s Feast Of The Hunters’ Moon joins the recent “new grass,” “Americana,” “progressive bluegrass,” “insert widely inclusive term connoting eclectic new music genre here” movement. The band includes three members of the Decemberists (Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee and Nate Query; Decemberists producer Tucker Martine is also on hand to work the board), and this debut disc is a competent listen, but much of the time we’re simply waiting for those moments where the music really takes off. They don’t come. Hunters’ Moon feels like taking a cross-country road trip without getting the bonus highlights of checking out the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas along the way. Sure, you may have made it from New York to LA; but you might as well have taken the plane. Hunters’ Moon feels more like destination than process; more groundwork than takeoff; more introduction than main event.
The formalism or cabaret stylings of pieces like “Ostinato Del Caminito,” “Tango Oscuro,” or “A Prairie Musette” are likely what is referred to in the press release for Hunters’ Moon when it states, “…the band cultivates an almost classical approach…” The word “almost” in this description is telling. Like much of the music on Hunters’ Moon, it ‘almost’ makes a lasting impression. It scratches the surface with idiomatic gestures and mannerisms but doesn’t go much further. The compositional or instrumental depth of, say, Tin Hat Trio or The Punch Brothers is nowhere near present. Hunters’ Moon is intriguing on paper but comes off lacking in fire, improvisational skill, and some unknown factor that would make it exciting. And their re-imagining of the old-timey/blues standard “Red Rocking Chair” (aka “Sugar Baby”), while pleasant enough, is nowhere as creative or intriguing as Sam Amidon’s recent interpretation. Maybe they were inspired by it?
But at least it’s solid destination/groundwork/introduction. Not surprisingly then, the best tune on Hunters’ Moon is “The Blackest Crow.” It’s is the best tune on the disc because it intentionally sets out to do what the rest of the record does by mistake: sound like an extended introduction without reaching much past the starting line; “The Blackest Crow” revels in atmosphere. If Black Prairie’s 2nd recording has the confidence of this tune it will be an excellent experience.
Standout Tracks: “The Blackest Crow” JOHN DWORKIN