Dusted Reviews

Viking Moses / Spencer Kingman - Crosses / Spenking

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Viking Moses / Spencer Kingman

Album: Crosses / Spenking

Label: Marriage

Review date: Jul. 20, 2005

Many folk musicians adopt a bohemian persona to fit their music, but Viking Moses is the real deal. Living a nomadic life for nearly a decade now, Brendon Massei has released banjo and acoustic guitar albums under several names. Perpetually on tour (since 1996), he has played with Will Oldham, Cat Power, Songs: Ohia and Devendra Banhart, to name a few, yet Massei’s body of work has received little commercial or critical attention. His newest full-length under the Viking Moses moniker, the story-song cycle Crosses, is by far his most accomplished work, and ranks among the best of the newest crop of American folk recordings.

For anyone who has seen Massei perform live, the delicate mood of Crosses may come as a bit of a surprise. While a Viking Moses show often finds Massei on his knees wailing like a man possessed, Crosses consists of nothing more than a softly picked nylon-string acoustic guitar, a bass, and some piano flourishes, with Massei’s trademark baritone rarely reaching its cathartic heights. While Massei may be accused of holding back, Crosses is actually strengthened by his reserve; otherwise, these odes to a girl named Emma could have come across a bit too earnest.

Massei’s simple, and thoroughly endearing lyrics complement the breezy melodies. On “Little Emma’s Smile” he sings, “I love the fishes that swim around me / God made the fishes and God made me / I love Emma, her smile’s so free / God, may little Emma’s smile find me” against a melody that could just as well be a nursery rhyme. There is a sense of childlike wonder throughout reminiscent of another of Massei’s old touring partners, Little Wings. But where Little Wings’ Kyle Field turns his wonderment outward towards nature, Massei is content to wonder at the ways in which love alters one’s perception, as he sings on “Little Arms”: “When you hold my little arm’s wrist out / you show me just how little I really am.”

The simplicity of the music allows Massei’s lyrics, with their roughly sketched narrative, to be the album’s centerpiece. In “My Husband’s Hand,” Massei imagines himself in Emma’s place, watching a group of children and feeling his/her biological clock ticking. At just a minute and a half, it epitomizes the album’s precision – just over 30 minutes without a single unnecessary note. While it can sound overly precious at times for the pysche-folk crowd, Crosses is a quiet piece of lamentation and joy that is hard not to embrace.

Crosses is packaged “in partnership,” as the booklet says, with the debut release from Viking Moses’ pianist Spencer Kingman. At a mere 18 minutes, the eight tracks fail to make as lasting an impression as Crosses, but are a fleeting glance at a musician coming into his own. Kingman is a skilled guitarist, and his nasally vocals compliment his acoustic finger-picking quite well. But while Massei’s lyrics are Crosses strength, Kingman’s are his weakness. The quasi-war imagery that runs throughout the record, with songs entitled “Vietnam Malaria Nostalgia,” Rebels Against the Night,” and “Al Jazeera,” seems too deliberate to be stream-of-consciousness, but too dashed off to be important.

By Jon Pitt

Read More

View all articles by Jon Pitt

Find out more about Marriage

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.