The only band on the circuit with a Victrola in tow, Norfolk and Western has long embraced the mystery of music with a time-worn patina. Indeed, when bandleader Adam Selzer takes the Amarylis shaped horn from the century-old phonograph, and begins to sing through it on stage, it demonstrates something remarkably different and refreshing about Norfolk and Western: in an invigorating fusion of old world and new, Selzer's voice becomes the Victrola. It is this service to song-craft and willingness to step out of the spotlight that has perhaps has kept Name Norfolk and Western from the being writ with the tallest letters on the marquis. Both Selzer and partner Rachel Blumberg have played supporting roles in other well known acts, as backing band for like-minded troubador M Ward, and Blumberg as the winsome drummer for The Decemberists and most recently Laura Veirs. But they are not cut from the cloth that functions as merely to accessorize. They have their own story to tell and it is every bit as intriguing, detailed and nuanced as their contemporaries. A Gilded Age signals the dawning of a new era for Norfolk. Recorded at the legendary Type Foundry Studio, Selzer (who produced and engineered the record himself) has long demonstrated the ability to craft exquisitely defined, sonically arresting, folk-tinted songs, but with A Gilded Age he leads Norfolk and Western to flex their songwriting and arranging muscle with dramatic, singular results. Never before has the band so defied the usual descriptors, and comparisons. The songs on A Gilded Age cascade dynamically and unrelentingly--elevating the long-form EP format to new heights-- beginning with the trademark Victrola and string swell opening of "Porch Destruction" to the positively invigorating (not a word usually associated with the band's recorded work) overdriven guitar and banjo attack of the title track. Each song serves the whole, adding layers of depth, drama, and subtlety to an undeniable tapestry of music. The songs are immanently accessible, borrowing from pop motifs more than past collections with the well honed rhythm section of Blumberg and bassist hit man Dave Depper (Blanket Music, The Village Green), but they also challenge the listener with terrific bursts of texture from Selzer's thick guitar, Amanda Lawrence's romantic viola, Cory Gray's (Desert City Soundtrack, Graves) hellish, equestrian trumpet squalls, and Tony Moreno's multi-instrumental savvy. Moreover, Selzer is in rare form as a lyricist, exercising restraint and letting the arrangements elucidate the moral dilemmas of his taught song narratives. "Clyde and New Orleans" may be the centerpiece of Selzer's provocative juxtapositions, calling on current events (Hurricane Katrina, The Edgar Ray Killen trial) to forge a work of short fiction set in the sixties, riffing on the human drama unfolding in contemporary America. The "wrath of God" is captured in an instrumental bridge, sending the snappy waltz time off the rails in an unholy, sinister, gut wrenching cacophony. This dramatic effect--interplay of light and dark, loud and soft--is expertly realized by Norfolk and Western throughout the 32 minutes of playing time on the disc.
released April 11, 2006
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