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Nick Castro - Further From Grace

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Artist: Nick Castro

Album: Further From Grace

Label: Strange Attractors Audio House

Review date: Jun. 29, 2005

Nick Castro's Further From Grace is the singer-songwriter's second full-length disc following last year's A Spy in the House of God, released on his own Records of Gauhd label. Whereas that affair was a predominantly solo effort, his newest disc finds his songs buttressed by backing band the Poison Tree, an ensemble comprised mostly of players associated with the Philadelphia-based Espers. The resulting album thus explores more opulent folk rock moves in addition to the more refined acid folk figures he cut across his debut.

Castro's music tends to cite the same reference points as his Espers' cohorts - an increasingly familiar blend of British and American folkies and bluesmen - so it's no surprise that the Poison Tree more than capably complements the lilt and strum of his songs. Otto Hauser's percussion and Helena Espvall's cello lace "Sun Song," the album's opener, with a subtle hit of darkness, making for a nice gallop and an intriguing counterpoint for Josephine Foster's ghostly, disembodied "voices." The band takes a more stately approach on "Waltz for Little Bird," with Castro relying mostly on understated organ and piano lines that form a neat contrast to the wanton horn phrases.

Ultimately, it's these full band dalliances that make for the highlights on the record. On the eerie "Music for Mijwiz," Castro takes the titular double-piped reed instrument through somber processionals, allowing Hauser ample room to explore blistering dumbek rhythms. "Deep Deep Sea" is another keeper, with the accompaniment pursuing a more relentless course than anything that's passed before, ultimately giving way to Castro's gentle croon.

While many of the full band treatments can feel kind of dour and pessimistic at times, Castro's personal takes on Further From Grace are mostly shot through with breezy tempos and hopeful melodies. "Guilford" is easily the best of these tracks, effortlessly segueing from simple finger-picking to whirling strum that feels positively joyous in its delivery.

It's doubtful that Nick Castro's latest work will galvanize hordes of neo-folkies in the same way that previous efforts from people like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart did. All the same, Further From Grace exudes a confident and intoxicating aura that bewitches both in the quality of the songs and Castro's attention to detail. Whether backed by the Poison Tree ensemble or stepping out on his own, the songs on this second full-length flow with a grace and sense of purpose that isn't as common as one would hope.

By Michael Crumsho

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