Ben Weaver’s a master of understatement. At the tender age
of 33, he conveys his conviction with the passion of a venerable old soul, a
seasoned folkie whose rustic imagery and solitary strum find far more in common
with the revered masters than today’s so-called nu-folk revisionists. Even so, Mirepoix and Smoke is something of a
surprise, a sparse, stripped down affair that puts the spotlight solely on
Weaver, with only banjo and guitar providing the bulk of his accompaniment.
Even the addition of back-up vocalist Eric Froman on opening track “Grass Doe”
fails to up the ante; the forlorn harmonies sound oddly out of sync, especially
within these bare-boned environs.
Surprisingly then, despite its pensive circumspect and
lo-lit desire, Mirepoix and Smoke is
an album of haunting, almost numbing beauty. Take, for example, the song “22
Shells,” in which Weaver intones, “River take me away/To the other side/Like a
fishhook stuck to a branch/Where the boats pass slowly by…” The scene is set so perfectly within the
context of this hushed description that the listener is practically transported
to that desolate embankment, feeling the tug of the current as it drifts slowly
by. These are mostly twilight rumblings, faraway glimpses and detached
observations, but they spoken from a knowing perspective that’s at once
familiar and yet, doggedly surreal. Weaver’s too much the impressionist to
achieve mass appeal, but these sensual, illuminating songs come across as far
more affecting than practically any of today’s stadium stand-bys.
Doe,” “22 Shells,” “The Rooster’s Wife” LEE ZIMMERMAN