The Deer’s Cry – Heal the Heart
This is the 2nd Deer’s Cry’s collection, a band that shuffles around in the conventions often occupied by the likes of Clannad, Altan, Peter Gabriel, the 1970s Magna Carta & other Celtic-oriented folk-rock ensembles. Singer Karen Ballew (harp/harmonium) has the same ethereal quality as Maire Brennan & later the East Coast American band October Project when it featured Mary Fahl. Karen’s voice is quite an accessible vocal style, warm, haunting & perfect for fairy tale folk songs.
At times, the group stabilizes its music with deep bellows of a cello (Austin Hoke), the heavy Patrick Atwater bass/double bass coupled with exquisite strings on “Cavern Cathedral.” They have an almost Dead Can Dance feel but are not quite as dark.
“Dogwood Tree,” adds more enchanted vocalizing with the addition of Will MacLean’s banjo (also acoustic/electric guitars) to lighten the scenario. Though the Celtic sound is dominating it allows the suggestion of where the Appalachian mountain people found their European roots. The music is equally compelling & the combination of the chorale haunting voices with the banjo strains is a contrast that is appealing.
10-songs grace Heal the Heart (Drops Sept 30–Independent) which was produced by Nick Bullock (orchestrations). “I Want To Get Through To You,” finds Ms. Ballew with a vibrant light touch similar to Sally Oldfield (“The Sun In My Eyes”) & Susan Osborne (“Lay Down Your Burden”) decades ago.
Throughout, each tune satisfies with melodic expressiveness. There is no shortage of ideas though this kind of folk music is on a higher plain than the basic commercial folk balladry of the early 60s. These are songs recounting events, people & stories handed down from one generation to another. “I See His Blood Upon the Rose,” dates from a poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916). When something beautiful becomes intense it sounds like this. Ballew’s voice soars with the perfect cruise of a large-winged bird in flight over the ocean.
The Deer’s Cry includes Bryan Brock (drums/percussion) with featured players – Hannah Holbrook (piano/accordion/vocal), Kristin Weber (violin), Leif Shires (trumpet/flugelhorn) & Simon Yeh (tenor sax/clarinet).
The title track is the most accessible melody & it’s arranged superbly through Patrick Atwater. Songs are often mystical but that’s not always the main ingredient. The quartet, based in Nashville & not Ireland or Scotland does carry those traditions into their songs.
So having grown out of sadness & dark times this music emerges as the sun does after every cloudy day. What makes Karen Ballew special is her ability to maintain a traditional voice when needed & a powerful commercial voice with authority as well (“The Sermon of St. Francis” – a Longfellow poem set to music).
Highlights – “Heal the Heart,” & “Morning Light,” “Jesus Sees Me,” (very Sally Oldfield-oriented) & all others mentioned. Beautiful cover art & illustration in this CD package.
Color image by: Barbara Potter Photography. CD @ https://www.thedeerscry.com/