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Rameses III - Folk Hymns

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Artist: Rameses III

Album: Folk Hymns

Label: Firefly

Review date: Jun. 6, 2004

Rameses III are named for an Egyptian pharaoh of the 20th dynasty and the liner notes to their debut EP, Folk Hymns, feature Renaissance images rendered in dark, muted tones. Bearing this in mind, it’s logical to assume that their music – made with two acoustic guitars and electronics – would share the dour, grandiose preoccupations of bands like Current 93, Nurse With Wound, and Coil, but Folk Hymns is neither sweepingly epic nor darkly sinister. Like those bands, Rameses III does genuflect toward folk traditions, but their touch is light and their tone quite peaceful.

The trio, comprised of Stephen Lewis, Daniel Freeman, and Spencer Grady (full disclosure – Grady is a regular contributor to Dusted) play slowly and purposefully, pressing twinkling folk passages into elongated ribbons of song. The prettiest of Folk Hymns’ seven tracks – “For Hymnal Hearts” and “The Lewis Thief” – embroider fragile acoustic melodies with fizzling jets of ambient sound, reminiscent of 4AD bands in general (and of Red House Painters songs like “Brockwell Park” and “Strawberry Hill” in particular). Grady’s vocals complicate this comparison a bit: his voice, which stays half-cloaked behind the guitars, is warm but wary of over-committing. This works well when put to conscious use, as on the aforementioned “For Hymnal Hearts,” where words delivered in an echoing, foregrounded whisper tangle with the distant lead vocal. The song evokes a mood of mournful absence akin to much of Rick Alverson’s work in Drunk and Spokane. Grady also imbues the beautiful, meandering “Where The River Flows” with a stately and archaic air – it feels like a lost Appalachian ballad rendered in its original Scotch-Irish form.

Not everything on the EP works quite so well – “Montague Hill” and “Here’s To The Next One” are both too thin to warrant being stretched to such a glacial pace – but most of Folk Hymns locates a fine balance between fixed folk forms and more personal, introspective playing. This is an auspicious 22-minute debut, suggesting creative directions that could blossom still further in full-length form.

By Nathan Hogan

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