For You to Discover: Prairie Empire’s Smooth, Jazzy Folk-Rock

9 Aug

Brooklyn duo Prairie Empire delivers smooth, sophisticated indie rock with a progressive jazz feeling throughout and occasional forays into folk on the new album, The Salt.

The duo’s sophomore effort remains relatively unknown several weeks after its official release, attracting few reviews from the leading online music sites. That’s unfortunate, because this is an excellent album that’s consistently good from beginning to end.

Led by extraordinary vocalist, Brittain Ashford, who also plays guitar and piano and handles the arrangements, Prairie Empire’s “The Salt” reminds me a little bit of Jenny Gillespie’s recent Cure for Dreaming. Drummer Nim Ben-Reuven is the other half of the duo. A number of outstanding session musicians add to The Salt’s arrangements with performances on cello, clarinet, organ, and additional guitar parts and vocals.

Prairie Empire’s songs are opulent, atmospheric and cinematic — with wonderful dynamic ranges. The title track is hesitant and tentative, with lightly picked guitar. Ashford sings the heartfelt line, “You are the salt in my blood,” in a series of tender pleas.

“Muir Woods” is an intimate and passionate love song, with a crystalline structure of piano and woodwinds and very simple drumming.

“Circles” is another standout. It’s slow and sad, but is enveloped by a lush soundscape with a rich, strummed guitar and Ashford’s smoky vocals.

Lastly, the album ends with two excellent tracks, “Daniel,” which segues directly into “We Were Reeds.” The sweeping strings and bigger drums of the former dissolve into a brief piano closer with lovely clarinet accompaniment (symbolic of the reeds). The song is uplifting and hopeful, and in this instance, is somewhat reminiscent of North Carolina’s folky, Bowerbirds.

If you’re in the mood for something that’s quiet and introspective, don’t miss The Salt.

 

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