Caterwauling Tales

Matthew J Rolin and Jen Powers (currently based in Columbus) have made Powers/Rolin Duo (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR524), a pleasant LP of instrumental music; Rolin plays his 12-string guitar and Powers plays the hammered dulcimer, and the two produce a nice harmonious blend. One is tempted to look for folk music influences or references, mainly because the hammered dulcimer (sometimes heard in Appalachian folk) is such an unusual instrument, but on the strength of these three discursive tracks I’m not sure if traditional folk is providing the backbone; these are more like simple explorations of harmonies, usually working within the confines of a single major chord or root note.

Because of these musical choices, the whole LP sounds very uplifting on the surface, and there’s also a cheerful pastoral cover painting (an enormous round sun over green rolling hills) that only a churl could find unwelcome. Sonically, I feel these two work overtime to occupy all the available space on the record, particularly the 12-string player; there’s nary a gap in the flow of the music, and not a second goes by that isn’t replete with chiming or ringing notes. One might almost find it gets a bit airless, but there is a euphoric rush to this cascade of music which is effective. The piece I enjoyed the most was ‘Caterwauls’, where there seems to be a light layer of audio distortion in the recording which adds a pleasing grit, all the sonorities blend into a seamless sunlit whole, and Powers/Rolin come close to transcending their own method. Conversely, I found ‘Ageless Phase’ a tad overlong at 17:55, especially as the music just keeps stating the same basic truths over and over without really advancing the conversation. However, it’s testament to their energetic passion that they’re able to sustain a single performance for this long.

The added bonus is that Rolin doesn’t appear to owe a huge debt to the Fahey / Basho schools of fingerpicking, and instead is working on treating his instrument as some kind of acoustic powerhouse (or at least the engine for a windmill). 250 copies made; released 1 May 2020, arrived here 1 April 2020.

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