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Palo Santo
Format: Audio CDChange
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
In a move that could be described as inspired , risky , foolhardy even mercenary the first thing Shearwater did on signing for indie juggernaut label "Matador" was to re-release their last album -2006,s Palo Santo Their previous albums were all on the tiny "Fargo" label and mined an exquisite blend of rustic melancholy. However this re-release is not all it seems. The band have re-recorded five of the songs off the original album and thrown in an extra disc of demo's for good measure . Fans of the band who already own Palo Santo will have to decide whether they really need another version of this album in their lives . I would suggest they do- if only for the demo's. Anyone who doesn't already own Pala Santo really should buy it .Really rather quickly if you don't mind , as it is, as is usual with this band a work of unequivocal genius.
Shearwater started as a side project for Will Sheff and Jonathon Meiburg , both of folk rock band Okkervil River. Sheff stills plays in the band but Shearwater is now Meiburgs venture and that's fitting as it's his cracked extraordinarily emotive vocals that give the music much of it's dejected power and crumpled dignity. Take opening song "La Dame Et La Licorne"( A song that reminds me of "Spirit of Eden" Talk Talk) which is ushered in on lonely piano and some background discordant hum and virtually mumbled low key vocals before Meiburg suddenly howls "Bring back my boy " and you are shocked out of the spatial reverie like an electric eel just fell in your lap. The song then subsumes back to the delicate piano and low key atmospherics but it's a precursor for just how dissonant the album will become at times and the awesome power in Meiburgs voice .
"Red Sea , Black Sea" is based around some lovely banjo and interestingly the version on the demo's disc is superior to the re-recorded one with a more assertive vocal and an arrangement that allows the melody to breathe. The songs resound with tales of love, death, children , war, hope and fear and whether they are couched in intemperate sounds and acerbic textures -"Seventy Four ,Seventy Five" "Johnny Viola" and "White Waves" or more familiar desperate but lovely ballads like the title track ,"Nobody" , the lilting "Sing Little Birdie" or even "Failed Queen" which skirts the post rock territory stalked by bands like Bark Psychosis or Scorn they are performed superbly by musicians entirely at ease with either style and any in-between . Similarly "Hail Mary " which alternates loud, quiet with Slint like finesse ."Going Is Song" is an ethereal spectre of a song , dissipating on tendrils of guitar and organ and but held earthbound by tolling percussion .
The extra disc does contain a couple of rather superfluous instrumentals but the bereft "My Only Boy" makes the extra disc worthwhile all on it's own and the alternate versions of songs on disc one are worth hearing but "Red Sea, Black Sea " apart are overshadowed by the re-recorded versions which are more assured and seem to fit in better with the albums tones and ambience . Other listeners may disagree but no one their right mind could argue that this isn't music that deserves to be heard.
So to answer the questions I posed at the start of the review . Is it inspired? Yes, but it was a great album anyway . Is it risky? Maybe commercially as many fans will already own this album and may not fancy forking out for what they perceive to be the same album again (which sort of answers the mercenary charge I would say) but artistically it,s a triumph .Foolhardy .....no way it,s a great album .One of last years best , even better this year. In fact the only question that still bugs me about Shearwater is -what is it with this band and birds ?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2011
I knew nothing of Shearwater (shameful I know) before being put on the right track by a sage muso friend who would not stop raving about this group. Their work with Bill Callahan had also piqued my interest and yet disaster was to strike! For, like a fool, I simply bought their most recent release, The Golden Archipelago. Now there is nothing particularly wrong with that record but it simply did not warrant the praise that had been heaped on this band previously. However, like all good friends, my buddy persevered and lo and behold, Palo Santo was handed to me on my last birthday. What a revelation it proved to be!

From the meandering majesty of La Dame et La Licorne which slowly builds into an epic explosion of powerful folk fusion wonder to the driving piano led rhythms of Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five, this album lulls and pulls the listener in. The sheer diversity of approach continues to amaze, as does the undoubted sincerity of all who particpate in this veritable masterpiece. Even at their most conventional, such as in the quiet lament Sing, Little Birdie, they manage to stir the soul and engage the heart. Yet, the most riveting and awe-inspiring aspect of this album is Jonathan Meiburg's vocals. His raw power and pathos sends ripples of emotion through every part of you and I defy anyone to listen to his work on this long-player without being deeply moved.

So, this album certainly led to a new fascination with this band whom I had cruelly misjudged (and indeed, some humble pie with regards to my muso pal) and I shall definitely explore further. Shearwater are very much worth the extra effort.
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This album is such a grower, in common with The Golden Archipelago. These were released directly before and after their excellent and critically lauded, more immediate 'Rook' album. That was a superb four years of music-making. The latest, their Animal Joy is certainly less strong.

The Allmusic site uses the whole of its review to credit Jeff Buckley with all of Jonathon Meiburg's talent. This is ridiculous and somewhat offensive considering the excellent quality of the album that is being credited to another artist. The site doesn't even choose the correct singer to credit. It is clearly Scott Walker whom Meiburg owns a debt to in vocal style and even look rather than Buckley. That being said, none of the songs on the album were by Scott, so the credit remains Meiburg's.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2009
I saw them live at the End of the Road Festival in 2008, their first appearance in the UK, and they played most of the first half of the first disc from this album and blew the place away. Their drummer is more hairball than man and they kind of have an otherworldly look about them that's a little unsettling, but that adds to their performance.

I love this album. It's beautiful and rather sad at the same time. They have a really unique sound that they didn't really repeat on the follow up album Rook which is good, but it's really no Palo Santo.
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on 10 June 2015
lovely album.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2010
stumbled over their music on youtube. Especially liked seventy-four, seventy-five. It is refreshing to listen to from the usual radio mix. Even after half a year I still enjoy their music. However, not to hear at all times.
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