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Hush Arbors - Under Bent Limb Trees

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Artist: Hush Arbors

Album: Under Bent Limb Trees

Label: Digitalis

Review date: Feb. 8, 2007

A number of qualities separate Under Bent Limb Trees from your average 4-track boy’s night in, but two key ones are tunes and tones. Keith Wood, the man known to dozens of hirsute record collectors as Hush Arbors, showed his mettle wielding both on this swell album, which Digitalis has returned to commercial availability in expanded form.

Some of his tunes are appropriated – “Where the Black Beat Hides in the Sky,” for example, is just “Shady Grove” streamlined by a couple notes – but he has the confidence to make them his own. Others simply sound vintage; “May All Your Pastures Now Spring With Heros” summons images of a backwoods militia facing down the charge of a steam-powered locomotive, flintlocks vainly cocked.

But Wood’s music, while ancient and rustic in sound, isn’t stuck in the distant past, unless you consider the first couple Flying Saucer Attack albums to be ancient history. Like FSA, he treats his sounds vigorously but well, massaging guitar tones so that they conjure mental vistas of infinite rural expanses.

Most of the time Wood sings in a high, Neil Young-ish warble that doles out lyrical details one or two at a time, like the first leaves blowing off a tree in autumn, but one of the most affecting tracks is instrumental – or at least non-vocal. On “Kudzu Covered Maples,” pulsing feedback tones blend with field recordings of crickets and what might be distant airplane engines in a way that makes me think of Mirror if they had ever tried to evoke the great forests just south of the tundra.

Digitalis has expanded the record to include a second CD whose five tracks were culled from early, out of print discs – it’d be nice to know exactly where they originated, but the sleeve isn’t telling and neither are the most likely websites. The short, vocal-oriented songs don’t match those on the album proper, but two long, atmospheric explorations set the controls for the heart of the woods and never steer you wrong.

By Bill Meyer

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