(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CD review - Arboretum,The Gathering (2011)

Baltimore's Arbouretum had slipped completely under my radar until a review copy of The Gathering (due out Feb 22, Thrill Jockey Records) found its way into my mailbox. Moments into the first track, The White Bird, I was hooked. The sound is effortlessly retro, nailing an early '70s classic rock sound so organically, you'd swear this was some unreleased gem from Bad Company's vaults. Frontman Dave Heumann even channels a Paul Rodgers sound to his vocals. Aside from Bad Company, there are bits of Warren Zevon and Richard Thompson in the mix, too.

The arrangements are centered around Heumann's simple guitar riffs and Corey Allender's thick, melodic bass lines. The drums propel the tunes forward, but rarely dominate. Additional guitar parts and keys add some ornamentation. Like that classic era, the songs are rarely overtly trippy, but there is a casual psychedelic vibe that comes from the meditative repetition of distorted guitar reverberating through the raga style changes. The album's blues riffs are completely dissociated from any kind of 12-bar structure.

The Gathering isn't just a one trick pony, though. There are great dynamics as rhythm and tempo changes keep things interesting. The songs each set a mood and tell their own stories. Their press talks about Carl Jung's The Red Book as an inspiration.

High points on the album include the opener, The White Bird, which sounds a bit like Bad Company covering Richard Thompson's For Shame of Doing Wrong. The interplay of warmly distorted guitar and rich bass builds a powerful groove. This has the satisfying feel of coming home. The beat is laid back, but persistent. Arbouretum takes their time with the jam, letting it unfold over 7+ minutes.

Their cover of Jimmy Webb's The Highwayman also stands out. They completely own this song that was a hit for the country supergroup, The Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson). The Zevon style vocal evokes Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner or A Bullet For Ramona. The lyrical theme of reincarnation fits well with the rest of The Gathering.

I could go on: the slow pensive build of When Delivery Comes, the moody bombast of Destroying To Save (download from Stereogum), or the rolling guitar thunder of Song of the Nile... As much as I enjoy all this, I'm looking forward to coming back to it after another month or two, to see what else resonates.

The Gathering is Arbouretum's fourth release (note to self, track down the back catalog). What's the right period friendly drink to match? Maybe bourbon and coke?


  1. Nice review. Congratulations from panopticonmag.com

  2. Great review - to my ears it also has the slow grinding riff made famous by Earth some years ago -albeit a little faster.

  3. Heard "White Bird" on the radio and downloaded it. Your review has made me want to go back for the rest of the album. "This has the satisfying feel of coming home." Absolutely.