Balmorhea: Rivers Arms
Western Vinyl

A transporting, hour-long collection by Balmorhea (pronounced “Bal-Moor-Ay”), an electroacoustic outfit constituted by multi-instrumentalists Rob Lowe and Michael Muller and augmented for this recording by violinist Aisha Burns, cellist Erin Lance, and bass guitarist Jacob Glenn-Levin. Rivers Arms includes fourteen picturesque vignettes where lyrical piano and acoustic guitar playing are richly enhanced by the guests' contributions: “Lament” pairs stately piano playing with the cry of Burns' violin, while “The Summer” merges acoustic picking with the moan of Lance's cello. The compositions dress limpid and pensive melodies in elegant classical garb, and the oft-heavy piano-and-strings emphasis positions Balmorhea's music alongside equally elegant music-makers Rachel's, Max Richter, and Michael Nyman.

Two of the album's prevailing moods are heard in adjacent pieces: the dramatic solo piano setting “Theme No.1” and the sunlit “Windansea” which features multi-layers of acoustic guitar picking. The album title's well-chosen as at times the music flows—races even—like rapids: in “Barefoot Pilgrims,” the playing grows increasingly agitated until it almost careens out of control but then rights itself and hurtles onward, while “Greyish Tapering Ash” speeds along like the train that's present as a field recording element. About halfway through, the duo departs from the album's predominating style in two connecting tracks: an interesting but less emotionally engaging exercise in experimental collage (“Context”) that features tolling bells, street sounds, choirs, and assorted other sounds; and a meditative, rather Frippertronics-flavoured setting that would fit comfortably onto Fripp and Eno's Evening Star (“Process”). Thankfully “Divisadero” returns us to the admittedly more straightforward but also more appealing bucolic style of the album's first half, a move upheld by the final four pieces. A good many moments of stirring beauty emerge in Rivers Arms' wistful and lilting snapshots.

March 2008