CD Review: The Cave Singers — No Witch; Playing The EARL, March 23 and The Red Palace, March 30

The Cave Singers
No Witch
Jagjaguwar

By Al Kaufman

Seattle is at it again. Not content to rest on their laurels as the birth of grunge, the Rainy City is now fostering a rebirth of the organic folk-rock scene. It is a sound that has been led by Fleet Foxes, and The Cave Singers are not far behind.

No Witch is the third album from the trio, but their first since leaving Matador and signing with Jagjaguwar. On it they incorporate their earthiest, yet most intense sound. Opening track “Gifts and the Raft” begins like an early spiritual, then the percussion kicks in, and suddenly we are on the verge of an Irish jig. Derek Fudesco’s guitars get hard and swampy on “Black Leaf,” and Pete Quirk’s angst-ridden rasp compliments the sound well. Quirk’s voice fits the home grown sound perfectly. He is part Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano’s know-it-all whine, and part Ireland’s David Gray’s everyman earnestness, with a little nit of gravel tossed in for effect. It’s a voice that’s not afraid to tackle the sitar-driven, psychedelic “Outer Realms” but feels just as home in the Velvet Underground-inspired rock-shuffle “Clever Creatures,” a song that also incorporates part of the guitar riff from Blind Melon’s “No Rain.”

The Cave Singers are most at home in the roots rock realm, and it shows in songs such as “Haystacks,” a song with lots of jangly guitars, harmonica, and gospel undertones, all held together by Quirk’s scratchy vocals. But they can also pull off something like “Faze Wave,” which unfortunately begins with laser sounds before the tribal drum beats enter and Quirk begins chanting, “I ain’t the man I am/I ain’t the man I was.”

If there is a fault with the ragged blend songs on No Witch, it’s that they are not ragged enough. These are songs that should be recorded in a swamp on the first take, not in a studio where knobs are turned and levels are checked. A missed note here and a broken string there would only add to this otherwise authentic experience.

The Cave Singers play The EARL in Atlanta on March 23…

…and the Red Palace in Washington, D.C.  on March 30.

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