BY MARK JENKINS
With the Horse’s Ha, her collaboration with James Elkington, Janet Bean traces Americana back to Britannia. The duo’s second album, Waterdrawn, includes such trad-countryish numbers as the twangy “A Stoney Valentine,” but most of the material gazes across the Atlantic toward Celtic balladry. The band’s name — and the title of its 2009 debut album, Of the Cathmawr Yards — both derive from a story by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Bean and Elkington’s credits include Eleventh Dream Day and Freakwater (her) and the Zincs, Brokeback, Skull Orchard (him), bands that encompass psychedelic- and post-rock as well as folksier styles. For this album, the twosome declined to record in a studio, working instead in the London-bred Elkington’s Chicago attic. If the result is a tad less adventurous than the previous album, the spareness serves the tunes, which may sound like folk standards but were all written by Bean and Elkington.
In fact, the album’s least persuasive tracks are the ones that — in likely homage to Nick Drake — add prominent string and woodwind counterpoint. Bean and Elkington’s voices clash vividly on the opening “Conjured Caravan,” but are ultimately overpowered by violin and cello. Better are the less upholstered “Hidey Hole,” an upbeat meditation on free will, and the stark “Bonesetter,” the album’s haunted epic. It begins with little more than Bean’s soprano, and becomes only slightly lonesome when Elkington joins in.
DOWNLOAD: “Hidey Hole,” “Bonesetter”