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Silver Tongues - Black Kite

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Artist: Silver Tongues

Album: Black Kite

Label: Karate Body

Review date: Oct. 11, 2011

The members of Louisville’s Silver Tongues haven’t quite settled on what kind of band they want to be. The band’s first entry into the blogosphere came in the form of the single “Ketchup,” a blistering, burst of fuzz-radiant guitar rock that sounds like Japandroids crossed with Joshua Tree era-U2. Yet its first album, Black Kite, is mostly radically different from “Ketchup,” built on ghostly country blues melodies and only touched with the textures of rock and pop. The title track is far more representative than the single, a slow-moving mesh of strummed guitars and David Cronin’s spectral, echoing voice, braced by occasional booming drums and a blare of amp feedback. Here and elsewhere, you get the sense of backwoods introspection that has been given the sheen and glare of mid-1980s arena rock, of porch folk ballads glowing with radioactive tones of synthesizer.

Cronin is the main force behind Silver Tongues, which he began as a solo project, then added Louisville area musicians James Hewett, Jacob Heustis, Michael Campbell and Brian Cronin. You can imagine many of these songs taking shape on a well-worn acoustic guitar, only later blown out into rock anthems with drums, guitars, synthesizers and, in one case (“Warsaw”), a full string section. Even the sparest cuts are subtly enhanced. “Hope For,” the album’s most straightforward folk strummer, is wrapped in eerie echo and surrounded by hum and drone, so that Cronin’s voice seems to float, disembodied, above fog-banks of cloudy sound.

Cronin’s voice is, by the way, one of the main draws here. Cool and unruffled, without much vibrato, it carries easily, the kind that seems to dominate without much strain. You never hear a real break in it, even at the highest registers. And yet there’s an untouchability to it, perhaps coming from the way Cronin surrounds his sound with echo. Even the earthiest songs, blues-vamping “Wet Dog” for instance, have a remote quality, their warmth seeming to come from a long way away.

As a result, while Black Kite‘s songs draw influence from well-worn, easily identified traditions — country, blues, folk and 1960s rock — they are just warped and strange enough to be interesting. From the cavernous echo of handclaps and footstomps in opener “Highways” to the sawing swagger of strings in “Warsaw” to the pristinely simple folk melody of “Greater Times,” surreality hangs over forms that should be easy to hear and process, but aren’t.

Black Kite is more a series of vignettes than an album. It’s not easy to make the leap between archaic ritual “Highways” and indie rock “Ketchup,” for instance, or from baroque “Warsaw” to lilting “Hope For.” Maybe eventually, Silver Tongues will settle on a characteristic style, but even on this fairly scattershot first album, there’s plenty to admire.

By Jennifer Kelly

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