Edith Frost
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Calling Over Time, 7/10
Telescopic , 8/10
Wonder Wonder , 6/10
It's A Game (2005), 5/10
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Edith Frost is a singer songwriter from Austin, Texas, with a background in old-time music and rockabilly revival combos. Eventually, she moved to New York and started performing solo. Her folksy debut EP, Evangeline (Drag City, 1995), located her personality somewhere between Palace Brothers's alt-country music, Nick Drake's mournful whisper, Kendra Smith's dreamy lullabies and classical folksinging a` la Joni Mitchell. Evangeline, Blame You and My God Insane introduce the listener to the ghosts and fantasies of her private world.

In the meantime she had moved to Chicago and started recording what would become Calling Over Time (Drag City, 1997), with the help of luminaries Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day), Rian Murphy (Royal Trux), David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol) and Jim O'Rourke. Temporary Loan, Too Happy and the other gems of the album pick up a broad range of influences, ranging from Nanci Griffith to Freakwater, and project them on a solemn stream of consciousness. Frost's roots in the 1930's and the 1950's (from the Carter Family to Hank Williams) still constitute the facade of her music, but undercurrents of noise-rock cause enough damage to continuously reshape the meaning of her sorrowful, minor-key, gently strummed ballads (and the closing Albany Blues, the least Frost-ian song, seems the product of that "reshaping")> Frost is 33 and is far less spontaneous than she sounds.

Telescopic (Drag City, 1998) changes the rules of the game. Her singing is still that melancholy whisper, and her melodies are still those hypnotic lullabies. The pace is still sparsely solemn. Her attitude is still shy and introverted. But now her breezy contralto resonates against a backdrop of surreal arrangements, that do not hesitate to incorporate cello, violin, accordion, trombone, and mandolin. Each song slowly turns from a very personal whine into a feast of timbres. Frost emancipates her art from the tradition of the female folksinger the same way that Kendra Smith and Lisa Germano did. Especially the latter is Edith Frost's only possible comparison.
A songs such as Walk On The Fire boasts literally layers and layers of sounds: first you have the heavy guitar feedback, then a piano ringing in the background, then a cello that surfaces in the main refrain. The drums hammer the arrangement and the angelic tune with a steady and noisy beat. The violin and the mandolin duel around one of her best melodies in Light, among echoes of slavic and greek folk music sentimentally lulled in a waltz-like rhythm. A "Mitteleuropean" accordion wraps up the simultaneously tuneful and funereal refrain of You Belong To No One. Another masterpiece is Tender Kiss, a slow and desperate litany that opens with a polirhythm reminiscent of the Who's Magic Bus. The shameless cry of a gypsy violin and a majestic solo of the flute crown the ghostly atmosphere.
The guitar is the most devastating of these sound effects, and the only one that can truly derail the song. Then Frost's music can drift as far to the border of grunge and acid-rock. Slightly faster and upbeat The Very Earth indulges in languid Hawaian laments of slide guitar while the electric guitar "drills" its cacophonous feedbacks. My Capture swim in a magma of meowing sounds, a surreal contrast to the robust beat and the loud guitar refrain.
One of the most "poppish" moments occurs when she hums Bluish Bells on the steady beat of a piano. The overall feeling is that of a late Beach Boys' track played at half speed.
Frost's soul is bare, on the other hand, in songs such as On Hold, Telescopic and Through The Trees where her melancholy style approaches Nick Drake-level depths. These are the most subtle and delicate moments, and no less musical than the elaborate songs. The depressed mood thickens with the hypnotic country dirge of Falling.
The album closes with the requiem of Are You Sure, another poppish number whispered at half speed, and this time coupled with a harrowing organ drone.

Only Lisa Germano has done so much to reinvent the folk ballad and to broaden the search for inner truth.

(Translation by Cinzia Russi/ Tradotto da Cinzia Russi)

Edith Frost, una cantautrice il cui background e’ costituito dalla musica old-time e da piccoli gruppi di revival rockabilly, nasce ad Austin, Texas ma si trasferisce in seguito a New York dove inizia la carriera da solista. Il suo debutto e’ segnato dall’EP folksy Evangeline (Drag City, 1995) che la colloca, in qualche punto non ben determinato, tra la musica neo-country di Palace Music e la canzone folk tradizionale alla Joni Mitchell.

Da New York, Edith Frost si trasferisce successivamente a Chigago e inizia a lavorare alla registrazione di quello che divverra’ Calling Over Time (Drag City 1997), aiutata nell’impresa dai luminari Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day), Rian Murphy (Royal Trux), David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol) e Jim O’Rourke. Temporary Loan, Too Happy e gli altri gioielli contenuti in quest’album lasciano trasparire una vasta gamma di influenze, da Nancy Griffith a Freakwater, che appaiono pero’ proiettate su un solennemonologo interiore. La musica degli anni ‘30 e ’50 (da Carter Family a Hank Williams), che indubbiamente e’ alle radici della Frost, continua a rappresentare la facciata della sua musica anche se le correnti secondary di ‘rumore’ rock si impongono rovinosamente fanno continuamente cambiare forma al significato di queste ballate in chiave minore, cosi’ delicatamente strummed e piene di dolore. Edith Frost ha adesso 33 anni e non e’ affatto cosi’ spontanea come sembra. Telescopic (Drag City 1998) cambia le regole del gioco. Il modo di cantare e’ caratterizzato dallo stesso sussurro melanconico di sempre e le melodie sono ancora una volta ninnananne ipnotiche, il ritmo continua ad essere vagamente solenne e l’atteggiamento timido e introverso. Adesso pero’ lo spigliato contralto della Frost risuona contro uno sfondo di arrangiamenti surreali che aggregano audacemente violoncello, violino, fisarmonica, trombone e mandolino. Ogni singolo pezzo nasce come un lamento personale e lentamente evolve in una festa di timbri. Edith Frost emancipa la sua arte dalla tradizione della cantante folk proprio come prima di lei hanno fatto Kendra Smith e Lisa Germano, e in effetti quest’ultima cantante e’ l’unico possible termine di paragone per la Frost.

Walk On The Fire vanta letteralmente innumerevoli strati di suoni; innanzitutto il pesante feedback di chitarra, poi il tintinnare in sottofondo del pianoforte, e poi ancora il violoncello che emerge durante ritornello principale mentre la batteria martella l’arrangiamento e l’angelica melodia con un ritmo costante e rumoroso. In Light, una delle migliori melodie della cantante, violino e mandolino si sfidano a duello in mezzo ad echi di musica folk slava e greca, teneramente cullati a ritmo di valzer. Una fisarmonica ‘mitteleuropea’ avvolge il ritornello di You Belong To No One, melodioso e funereo allo stesso tempo. Un’altro capolavoro e’ Tender Kiss, una litania lenta e disperata che esordisce con un poliritmo che richiama alla mente Magic Bus degli Who, l’atmosfera spettrale del quale e’ coronata dal grido sfrontato del violino zigano dall’assolo maestoso del flauto.

La chitarra produce l’effetto sonoro piu’ devastante di tutti e l’unico che veramente riesca a far deragliare la canzone. A questo punto la musica della Frost puo’ andare alla deriva fino a raggiungere il confine del grunge e dell’acid-rock. Un tantino piu’ veloce e in ascesa, The Very Earth indulge nei languidi lamenti hawaiani della chitarra slide mentre la chitarra elettrica ‘trapana’ I feedbacks cacofonici. My Capture nuota in un magma di miagolii che contrastano in modo surreale con il ritmo vogoroso e il forte ritornello della chitarra. Bluish Bells, canticchiata tra se’ e se’ al ritmo uniforme del pianoforte, costituisce uno dei momenti piu’ poppeggianti della Frost e la sensazione globale e’ la stessa di uno degli ultimi pezzi dei Beach Boys suonato a mezza velocita’.

In brani quali On Hold, Telescopic e Through The Trees, nei quali lo stile melanconico si avvicina a profondita’ dello stesso livello di Nick Drake, l’anima di Edith Frost e’ d’altro canto nuda. Sono questi i momenti piu’ penetranti e delicati ma non per questo meno musicali di quelli delle canzoni piu’ elaborate. L’umore depresso si inspessisce nell’ipnotica nenia country di Falling. L’album si chiude con il requiem di Are You Sure, un altro pezzo poppeggiante sussurrato a mezza velocita’, accoppiato questa volta ad uno straziante organo drone.

The single Love Is Real (Drag City, 1999) was a compromise between the humble hymns of the first album and the bleak passion plays of the second album.

Frost is co-author of the supersession Tramps Traitors and Little Devils (Drag City, 2001) with Smog and Neil Hagerty and contributes Leaving The Army and One Chord Complaint.

Wonder Wonder (Drag City, 2001) takes a relaxed, optimistic look at sentimental life, boosted by a slightly more upbeat and generally good-humored sound. The ensemble includes Eleventh Dream Day's Rick Rizzo, Archer Prewitt, Poi Dog Pondering's violinist Susan Voelz, Boxhead Ensemble's bassist Ryan Hembrey and cellist Amy Domingues. The album is dotted with odd tunes like the melodramatic, street-organ waltz Fear and the goofy, county-fair novelty Wonder Wonder. Despite a rather limite vocal range, Frost even measures up to the solemn pop progression of Cars And Parties. Her poetic art is better represented by the tender music-box of Who (with loud, psychedelic bangs of percussions and waves of mellotron) by the pristine acoustic gem Hear My Heart and by the unabashedly romantic closer You're Decided, while the violin-driven country dirges (Further, Honey Please) that suddenly reveal her roots are a little trivial.
Production and arrangement are probably not the best suited for her music (a little too whimsical, but still thin and insecure), and the lyrics are a tad too childish this time around, but even this transitional album still manages to capture some of the magic of Telescopic.
On the other hand, Frost is reinventing herself as a magnificent voice of the apocalypse, her songs enhanced with arrangements that are almost childish but that seem to announce biblical catastrophes. She is doing to folk music what the first Velvet Underground album did to rock music in the 1960s: carve a bleakly subliminal, darkly metaphysical, cruelly hellish space beneath a perfectly innocent surface.

It's A Game (Drag City, 2005) contains the piano meditations Emergency and It's a Game but overall it sounds too superficial and smooth.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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