Balmorhea: All is Wild, All is Silent
Western Vinyl

On All is Wild, All is Silent, Balmorhea, an Austin-based sextet fronted by Rob Lowe and Michael Muller and rounded out by violinist Aisha Burns, upright bassist Travis Chapman, cellist Nicole Kern, and drummer Michael Bell (Taylor Tehan the drummer on the album), attacks its material with an emotive grandeur that's both bold and powerful. Throughout the album, the acoustic group segues between tranquil quietude and dramatic aggression with ease, and produces an uplifting and timeless acoustic music that bursts with vitality. Acoustic guitars and banjo reinforce that timeless American feel while strings bring an oft-mournful and classical dimension to the album's pieces (Debussy, Beethoven, and Pärt, among others are cited as influences at Balmorhea's MySpace page).

Alternately uplifting, joyous, and hymnal in tone, “Settler” gets All is Wild, All is Silent off to a superb start as it segues from one section to another in just under seven minutes; first piano, electric guitar, and strings interweave and then pair up in unison lines, leaving brief spaces for drum fills; a quiet section follows featuring polyphonic vocal counterpoint, until a hand-clapping romp of violin and vocals concludes the song—an amazing suite that showcases the band's multiple sides in a single set-piece. The eight-minute “Harm and Boon” opens quietly before indulging in some stabbing, Crimson-like guitar-and-strings riffing and then decompresses for a lulling episode of pizzicato strings and chiming electric guitar playing. Opening as a haunting funereal composition graced by a lovely descending banjo melody, “Remembrance” eventually passionately explodes during its middle before returning to its elegiac roots with some equally lovely string writing. An occasional interlude, such as “Elegy” with its brightly chiming acoustic picking, leavens the ambitiousness of the longer travelogues, while singer Jesy Fortino helps close the album hauntingly by joining the band for the gorgeous coda “November 1, 1832.” At forty-two minutes, the collection is perfectly-timed: long enough to clearly make its case but concise and to the point too. On its third album, Balmorhea executes its material masterfully, and the band's heart is as wide open as the natural landscape that graces the cover.

April 2009