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Fern Knight - Seven Years of Severed Limbs

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Artist: Fern Knight

Album: Seven Years of Severed Limbs

Label: Normal

Review date: Sep. 12, 2004

The Providence, Rhode Island music scene is usually associated with Lightning Bolt, Ft. Thunder, and Load Records – crazy noise, high volumes, and general insanity. If all you read was the title of Fern Knight’s debut record, it would fit nicely in the Providence fold. Listen to the CD, and it’s a different story. Acoustic guitars, hushed vocals, accordion. Folk music? From Providence? Huh?

Formed by former Difference Engine members Margie Wienk and Mike Corcoran, Fern Knight is a bit different from the current batch of folk revivalists. Their songs are informed as much by ’90s indie-rock as Nick Drake, with the vocals as the point of deviation. Unlike Espers, Joanna Newsome, or Devendra Banhart whose vocals are all, in their unique ways, otherworldly, Wienk’s voice is very much earth-bound. Her choice of melodies and lyrics wouldn’t sound out of place on, say, the slower songs of an Unwound or Sleater-Kinney record. Perhaps it’s because her voice – though perfectly lovely – by and large doesn’t have the ominousness or purity of those other singers. She relies on the harmonies of indie-rock just a bit too much, with “If I Could Write a Book About You” as a noticeable exception. It’s an interesting change of pace, giving the album a terrestrial core around which to build.

"Folk" might almost be the wrong word for this. Yes, it uses much of folk’s instrumentation – acoustic guitar, cello, accordion, and lap steel among others – but the feel isn't the same. The instrumentals center around marimba and Rhodes piano, instruments with the wrong kind of mood. Their songs often have the propulsive drive, rhythmic consistency and guitar patterns of rock songs; and quite honestly, the record is just a bit too happy for the overcast world of folk. You couldn’t mistake it for, say, PJ Harvey, but it’s not that far off. And then there are the moments of cloud cover, where the guitars pick just so, where Wienk’s voice becomes an apparition, where the notes are allowed to float outside of time, where the puppeteer on the cover yanks our strings allowing the folk to reemerge. It is these sometimes subtle changes that make this a charming variant on what has already become a well-worn theme.

By Dan Ruccia

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