Unwed Sailor: The White Ox
Burnt Toast Vinyl

Unwed Sailor, a quintet fronted by Oklahoma-born songwriter Johnathon Ford, re-appears with The White Ox, a 33-minute suite that follows Stateless (a joint 2002 release by Unwed Sailor and Early Day Miners), 2003's The Marionette and the Music Box, and the 2006 EP Circles (Ford collaborating with Early Day Miners' Dan Burton on two long tracks originally intended to be part of The White Ox, but instead issued as a stand-alone). Like Circles, The White Ox evolved out of the Ford-Burton sessions, even though the two initially convened in 2005 to work on remixes of an out-of-print Unwed Sailor 7-inch, The Magic Hedge.

The White Ox's mood is generally low-key and retiring, as its six, largely acoustic-oriented compositions unhurriedly unfold through carefully measured episodes. A tribal tom-tom rhythm initiates “Shadows” broodingly before the song's gradual awakening into low-key, folkloric splendor. The mood hardly brightens in “Gila” where Burton's murmured vocal only deepens the song's funereal ambiance. Electric guitars languorously converse, echoing each other's lines over a plodding, hazy divide as Ford's falsetto merges with Burton's lower voice. “Numbers” recovers from that darkness with a hopefulness that's like a peaceful morning after a storm-tossed night. Though its pulse drags a little too much, “Night Diamond” is notable for the dub bass line that animates its spacious array of shimmering motifs and elegant guitar lines. The album's sweetest moment arrives in “Pelican” where Kevin Barrans' pennywhistle and accordion playing add a bucolic sing-song dimension. The White Ox is inarguably pretty and well-crafted, yet it still comes across as somewhat slight, due perhaps to its brevity and its predominantly subdued character; in light of that, perhaps Circles' two tracks should have been reserved for The White Ox instead of issued separately.

December 2006