The Horse’s Ha

Waterdrawn (Fluff and Gravy Records)

Contact Jessica Linker about The Horse’s Ha

Waterdrawn is only the second album from The Horse’s Ha in 10 years.  Why does it take them so long to make records?  They’re not inherently lazy people; Janet Bean has had a 25 year career of making records as half of alt-country originatorsFreakwater and as one third of Eleventh Dream Day, while James Elkington has spent the last few years as a guitarist in Jon Langford’s Skull Orchardand drummer in Brokeback, the project of Doug McCombs (bassist of Tortoise), as well as releasing an album of finger-style guitar duets with Nathan Salsburg for Tompkins Square, and recording and touring with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab.  The Horse’s Ha’s first record, entitled Of The Cathmawr Yards (2009), was a blurring of English folk, jazz improvisation and haunting harmonies that featured Bean and Elkington’s contrasting voices, the athletic rhythm section of Nick Macri and Charles Rumbackon bass and drums, and the stellar-searching cello experiments of Fred Lonberg-Holm. However, forWaterdrawn, Bean and Elkington went back to their roots as an acoustic guitar and voice duo to make a stripped-down record that mirrors their “without a net” live performances.  Drawing strength and influence from Shirley Collins’ and Davy Graham’s genre-defining album, New Routes, Folk Routes and Donovan’s early endeavors, The Horse’s Ha wrote a collection of songs that harkens back to the British folk boom without replicating it and points the group in a new direction.

 

Having grown momentarily disillusioned with working in recording studios, Waterdrawn was made in Elkington’s attic (now known as Nada Studio) and was built from the ground up over the period of a year on the foundation of Bean’s country-tinged voice and Elkington’s folk-inspired guitar playing with a minimum of ornamentation.  A decision was made early on:  Embrace the space!   Anything superfluous to requirements was left out or, more likely, recorded and then unrecorded.  Horse’s Ha regulars’ Fred Lonberg-Holm and Nick Macri made wonderful and buoyant contributions that keep Waterdrawn bobbing along, and reed and string contributions from Jacob Daneman and Skull Orchard’s Jean Cook add color and texture, but the emphasis is on the irrefutable magic of voice and guitar, and how that can invite the listener in to a different world.  It sounds simple, but their world is not always as it first appears and this is reflected in the cover art by Iwona Biedermann.

 

Dreams of escape abound in Waterdrawn:  opening song “Conjured Caravans” is a galloping meditation on astral travel, the soaring singing and acrobatic finger-picking punctuated by Macri’s nimble upright bass and Lonberg Holm’s yearning cello.  The funereal clarinets of New Orleans sound as we flee from monks, hookers and grave-robbers in “The Dying Tree.”  A man thinks he can fly in a ballad called “The Feathered Rover,” and penguins that will never fly bawdily betroth each other in “A Stony Valentine.”  Meanwhile, the protagonist in Bean’s song-story, “Bonesetter,” ponders the ultimate escape for him and his ward. Throughout all ofWaterdrawn, however, the sea beckons.  From the pursued fugitive of the bouncing “Hidey-Hole” and the pulsing tattoo of rowers in “Waterdrawn” to the haunting melodica and chiming 12 string guitar of“Sea Shanty,” these songs’ characters are being spirited away on musical waves that have no ties to the earth.  Waterdrawn could just bear you away like that.

audio