Hush Arbors: Under Bent Limb Trees

Prompted by Keith Wood's decision to relocate to England in late 2006, Digitalis has re-issued Hush Arbors' debut full-length Under Bent Limb Trees in newly remastered form and, even more notably, expanded it with a second disc that includes out-of-print, rare, and unreleased tracks from Keith Wood's own archives and other limited releases. The sometime Sunburned Hand of the Man member's compelling mix of atmospheric instrumentals (“Spirits Over Mt. Blanca,” “Wooded Reel”), rustic ballads (“The Forest We've Been”), and campfire chants (“Under the Death Tree,” “The Valley”) is distinguished by an eclectic sonic palette (bowed dulcimer, banjo, even a sputtering synthesizer) and Wood's fragile falsetto.

The vocal songs present the album's more conventional and thus more accessible side. Wood's breathy croon nimbly glides atop a droning string base and guitar distortion in “May All Your Pastures Now Spring with Herbs” and pairs with banjo playing and what sounds like the faint chirp of a cricket in the lonely folk lament “The Forest We've Been.” The gently uplifting waltz “Song for Morning to Sing” sounds as if Wood recorded it on a back porch using the simplest recording technology imaginable, yet the song's irrepressible charm transcends its modest means of production. At times, Wood intensifies the ‘outdoors' ambiance of the vocal songs with a subtle incorporation of field elements and ambient touches (note the distant howl that bleeds through the background of “Gypsy Wood”), but the music itself is so evocative it communicates with immediacy. The twelve-minute drone “Kudzu Covered Maples,” on the other hand, fully relies on its swirling haze of cricket chatter and industrial feedback for its impact.

Despite including only five pieces, the second disc is the longer one on account of two ‘psychedelic folk' meditations, the thirteen-minute “Brittle Village” and twenty-minute “If There Be Spirits, Let Them Come.” In the former, droning organ tones, glimpsed through a field of blurry static, exude a hint of minimalism (Terry Riley, not Glass), while the latter's outdoor sounds and bowed tones transport the listener to the countryside. Some of the album's most beautiful moments, in fact, occur here when an acoustic guitar's unhurried pluck and strum resounds against a hazy backdrop of bird chirps and whistles. Vividly conjuring expanses of the forest and open plains, Under Bent Limb Trees constantly beguiles with the earnest charm of its rustic hymns and haunting gothic serenades.

April 2007