The Horse's Ha

The Horse's Ha

Waterdrawn is only the second album from The Horse's Ha in 10 years. Why does it take them so long to make records? They're not inherently lazy people; Janet Bean has had a 25 year career of making records as half of alt-country originators Freakwater and as one third of Eleventh Dream Day, while James Elkington has spent the last few years as a guitarist in Jon Langford's Skull Orchard and drummer in Brokeback, the project of Doug McCombs (bassist of Tortoise), as well as releasing an album of finger-style guitar duets with Nathan Salsburg for Tompkins Square, and recording and touring with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. The Horse's Ha's first record, entitled Of The Cathmawr Yards (2009), was a blurring of English folk, jazz improvisation and haunting harmonies that featured Bean and Elkington's contrasting voices, the athletic rhythm section of Nick Macri and Charles Rumback on bass and drums, and the stellar-searching cello experiments of Fred Lonberg-Holm. However, for Waterdrawn, Bean and Elkington went back to their roots as an acoustic guitar and voice duo to make a stripped-down record that mirrors their “without a net” live performances. Drawing strength and influence from Shirley Collins' and Davy Graham's genre-defining album, New Routes, Folk Routes and Donovan's early endeavors, The Horse's Ha wrote a collection of songs that harkens back to the British folk boom without replicating it and points the group in a new direction.

Nathan Salsburg

Nathan Salsburg was born in that Diamond City, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—she of anthracite glimmer and Babe Ruth's 1926 long ball—and is a longtime resident of Louisville, Kentucky. He is the curator of the Alan Lomax Archive and a producer and presenter of traditional music for a variety of outlets. His first solo record is called Affirmed, and it's about race horses—Affirmed, Bold Ruler, and Eight Belles, specifically—and desire and reckonings of the spirit. It's an almost entirely instrumental affair, save his elegiac rendering of the traditional tune "The False True Love."

While comparisons to John Fahey may be inevitable—and there are worse curses, to be sure—the similarity that Salsburg bears to that great master is mostly one of maverick aesthetic. For where Fahey spent his career a hungry ghost in some supernal Valley of Tears—in the process paving the way for a million joyless ragas by pickers that learned the wrong lesson—Salsburg's brambly rags and sundowner hymns incorporate an arch, bittersweet harmony that marks the best work of guitarists like Reverend Gary Davis, Ry Cooder, and Nic Jones. He plays like he knows that happiness is made of sad, and every tragedy is kind of funny, in its way.

—M.C. Taylor, Durham, NC, 21 Aug 2011


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