Sonora Pine & Tara Jane O'Neil

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Sonora Pine, 6/10
Retsin: Egg Fusion, 6/10
Retsin: Sweet Luck Of Amaryllis , 6/10
Retsin: Cabin In The Woods , 6/10
Sonora Pine II, 6/10
Tara Jane ONeil: Peregrine , 7/10
Ida Retsin Family: Volume One , 6/10
Hall Of Fame , 5/10
Hall Of Fame: First Came Love Then Came The Tree , 5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: In The Sun Lines, 7/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: Tjo Tko , 6.5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: Bones (2004) , 4.5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: You Sound Reflect (2004), 6.5/10
Samara Lubelski: The Fleeting Skies (2005), 6/10
Samara Lubelski: Spectacular Of Passages (2005), 6.5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: In Circles (2006), 5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: Wings Strings Meridians (2007) , 5/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: A Ways Away (2009), 6/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: Where Shine New Lights (2014), 6/10
Tara Jane O'Neil: Tara Jane O'Neil (2017), 5/10

Half of Rodan, i.e. Tara Jane O'Neil (now on vocals and guitar) and Kevin Coultas, formed Sonora Pine with keyboardist and guitarist Sean Meadows, violinist Samara Lubelski and pianist Rachel Grimes. Their debut album, Sonora Pine (1996), basically applied Rodan's aesthetics to the format of the lullaby.
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Sean Meadows (June Of 44) ha formato i Sonora Pine a Louisville verso la fine del 1994 con due ex membri dei Rodan, Tara Jane O'Neil (adesso alla chitarra e al canto) e Kevin Coultas, con il bassista Bob Weston, con la violinista Samara Lubelski (ex Pacer e anche negli Hall Of Fame) e con la pianista Rachel Grimes. Le canzoni di Sonora Pine (Quarterstick, 1996). sono tutte eseguite all'insegna di una pigrizia sognante, che in Gin Mill rasenta il tono della "lullaby". Le altre ninnananne (Ooltench, The Hook, Compass Lute, Goldmund, One Ring Machine) scorrono fievoli e vergognose, consce della complessita` dei propri accompagnamenti e della pochezza delle proprie melodie. I brani strumentali, Owl's Nest e Hoya Carnosa, cercano un impossibile compromesso fra la musica ambientale, il rock da camera dei Rachel's e le partiture cervellotiche degli Slint.

Tara Jane O'Neil figura anche nei Retsin con l'altra cantante Cynthia Lynn Nelson. Il gruppo esordi` con le otto canzoni del mini-aulbum Salt Lick (Simple Machines, 1995), all'insegna di un country-rock "acido" (Country Style Spoonin', Pulp) e talvolta dissonante (Mary B, Unsavory). Egg Fusion (Simple Machines, 1996) e` invece un disco di ballate folk all'antica, calde e introverse, benche' arrangiate in maniera spartana. Fly South e Kangaroo echeggiano le Indigo Girls in versione underground. Duck Out e Barefoot & Stones utilizzano rumori surreali, nella tradizione del country eccentrico di John Fahey.

Su Sonora Pine II (Quarterstick, 1997) la formazione di O'Neil e` troppo intellettuale, e troppo conscia del proprio pedigree (Rodan e gruppi limitrofi) per riuscire ad emozionare davvero. Le soffici litanie di Eek e Long Ago Boy rircodano anzi piu` i Palace Brothers nei loro momenti meno coesivi che non i gruppi di Louisville (Slint, Rachel's, June Of 44, etc). Sono lente ballate in sottovoce che hanno ancora un pezzo di codice genetico del country-rock. Ma l'atmosfera e` tutto, stante anche la pochezza del canto (davvero un po' troppo "lo-fi") e l'approssimazione dell'arrangiamento. Snow's Cut Snapshot prende come spunto quella che sembra una filastrocca per bambini, ma subito deformata in un sotterraneo mugugno. A far librare la musica dovrebbero essere gli strumenti, che pero` raramente riesconoa a spingersi oltre il semplice cicaleccio di sottofondo. I contrappunti fra chitarra, violino, organo e basso conferiscono a Cloister un tono funereo e metafisico. Il lungo strumentale che chiude il disco, Linda Jo, ottiene forse i risultati migliori, con una peculiare fusione di musica ambientale e danza rurale, di Ry Cooder e di Slint.

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Tara Jane O'Neil, who played bass in Rodan and sang in Sonora Pine, writes all music and plays most instruments (including piano, balalaika and banjo) on Peregrine (Quartersticks, 1999), a collection of simple, intimate, home-made ballads that are the natural continuation of Retsin's 1996 album (O'Neil's counterpart on that album, Cynthia Nelson, plays flute and harmonizes on two tracks).
O'Neil has the charm of a country girl and the phrasing of sophisticated soul-jazz singer (think Sade). The languid atmosphere and swinging rhythm of A City In The North Bullhorn Noon and 1st Street are rich in musical harmony as well as psychological depth. These are accessible compositions that can appeal to a much wider audience than the one granted by Sonora Pine's alternative rock.
But O'Neil's program is more ambitious. The quiet fairy tale of Sunday Song has a trance-like quality, a cross between Nick Drake and a Tibetan monk. And so does the six-minute long Asters, a kaleidoscopic composition that alternates a sleepy, jazzy refrain with psychedelic lulling and flamenco trotting. The surreal Ode To A Passing is well served by dissonant and disproportionate instruments. Chords float in the dilated harmony of The Fact Of A Seraph, not unlike Tim Buckley's dreamy songs. Here, O'Neill's art is better qualified as meditation, not just confession.
Hidden beneath the surface of O'Neil music is a convoluted mass of feelings, which are better expressed in the instrumental tracks: in the surreal guitar noises and colorful guitar tones of Another Sunday, and in the suave, quasi-classical sonata for guitar, piano and violin that closes the album, A City In The South. Thus... third, but not least, this is also a composer's album.
O'Neil has managed to produce a highly personal statement and a complex work of art with the most modest of means. It would not be surprising to find her in the league of the major songwriters of the next decade.

Hall Of Fame (Amish, 1997) is Dan Brown (God Is My Co-pilot) and Samara Lubelski (Sonora Pine). Their music is more similar to Sonora Pine than GIMC. Better structured songs and subtle instrumental passages create atmospheric wordless ballads. First Came Love Then Came The Tree (Amish, 1999) further develops that style at the border between acid jam and post-rock, and, again, the instrumental scores are worth a lot more than the songs.

Samara Lubelski has also released the solo album The Fleeting Skies (Social Registry, 2004)

The duo of Cynthia Nelson and Tara Jane O'Neil, aka Retsin, released the pop-jazz sendup Sweet Luck Of Amaryllis (Carrot Top, 1999) and Cabin In The Woods (Carrot Top, 2001). The latter retreats to a set of intimate folk ballads, under the shadow of O'Neill's typical deconstruction experiments and with Ida Pearle's violin replacing the rhythm section (Southwater, Carnival).

Volume One (Muss My Hair, 1999) is a nine-song mini-album credited to Ida Retsin Family, which is a collaboration between Retsin and Ida. Tara Jane O'Neil's In The Sun Lines (Quarterstick, 2001) is another quiet and surreal act of contrition. O'Neil is a gifted narrator and a creative (to say the least) arranger and this album certainly proves how one can create mesmerizing texture with limited means. Her weak point is the voice, a fragile whisper that rarely communicates any emotion at all. She smartly buries it under the instruments, but doesn't have enough of them to reduce the burden on the vocals. The Winds You Came Here On is typical of how she leverages on a carefully assembled soundscape to amplify the message. High Wire is fascinating for its open structure, somewhat reminiscent of Tim Buckley, that lets notes float freely around the voice. She gets the most of her limited technique and her even more limited orchestra. The trancey, eight-minute lullaby This Morning achieves the most abstract structure, surpassing John Fahey's transcendental folk with delicate sonic tapestries of piano, guitar and tom-toms.
While intricate and, in many ways, bizarre, this is not some convoluted avantgarde theory. Check the classical, dreamy, music box theme of Your Rats Are, how it leans on a quasi-raga jingle-jangle and how the ghostly harmonica rises out of the subdued mayhem. It is tender, not cerebral.
At her best, O'Neil composes chamber music that could easily do without the lyrics. Check how, within the instrumental All Jewels Small, a languid violin melody is contrasted with a sharp guitar dissonance while a harmonic is left to resonate in the background. New Harm is three minutes of repetitive chords that create a bleak atmosphere but then slowly reveal a radiant vision. And the closing A Noise In The Head (the nadir of her paranoia) is an absurdist mini-piece scored for found noises. Lend her an orchestra and she will compose a symphony.

Retsin's five-song EP Moon Money Moon (Acuarela, 2002) marks the end of the parable that took the duo from the quirky post-folk of the early recordings to the flat acoustic country of the latest album (Pauline and Susie, Duck Out).

Tara Jane O'Neill's Tjo Tko (Mr Lady, 2002) is a masterful collection of chamber electronic folk music. By mixing eccentric sound effects a` la Solex and plaintive acoustic guitar, Choo, I Saw 3 and Juno refound her pastoral art in a more urban context.

Meanwhile she also helped singer-songwriter Daniel Littleton record his mediocre debut Music For A Meteor Shower (2002).

Tara Jane O'Neill surprisingly converted to hard-rock with the EP King Cobra (Troubleman Unlimited, 2003), but Bones (Preservation, 2004) revealed instead a more traditional folksinger, delving into personal dramas and idyllic impressionism that quirky electronic arrangements do not negate but enhance (Enter This House). Most of the songs sound like leftovers from previous albums, though.

She also published Who Takes A Feather (Mop Press), a collection of her drawings and paintings.

Yet another Tara Jane O'Neill album, You Sound Reflect (Touch & Go, 2004), further confused the issues: Take The Waking is industrial ambient folk music and Tea Is Better Than Poison is psychedelic chamber folk music (both enchanting instrumental scores); Known Perils (the most conventional of the set) sounds like a solemn traditional; Howl sounds like Joan Baez singing atmopsheric easy-listening music; The Poisoned Mine is a nostalgic country lullaby and Love Song Long a hypnotic singalong; while Famous Yellow Belly emits a sweet melody over a pounding beat, and Without Push whispers dreamily over a dilated shuffle. The overall feeling is that O'Neill harks back (more or less consciously) to naive pop music of the 1960s while retaining her country roots and adding the sensibility of an avantgarde artist.

Samara Lubelski's first solo album, The Fleeting Skies (Social Registry, 2005) is a charming post-folk excursion that swings between old-time music and dream-pop. Her second solo album, Spectacular Of Passages (Social Registry, 2005), is instead a collection of slightly orchestral and mildly psychedelic tunes. The tasteful and eclectic orchestration breathes life into her naive folk ballads. Lubelski's vocals are front stage on Future Slip (Ecstatic Peace, 2009), another delicate and opulent exercise in dream-pop.

Tara Jane O'Neil's In Circles (Quarterstick, 2006) was an album in the spirit of the traditional folk-singers despite being one of her most personal. Ditto for Wings Strings Meridians (Square Root Books, 2007), that emphasized the coupling of audio and visual art.

Tara Jane O'Neil's A Ways Away (K, 2009) managed to convey an otherworldly atmosphere with her most colorful orchestration yet. Tara the singer is still quite pedestrian. Tara the songwriter is only occasionally above average. But now Tara the producer has become a real master. She crafts the gentle dreamy jangling singsong Dig In and the Donovan-esque folk lullaby Drowning, and she captures the angelic, ethereal quality of Simon & Garfunkel in A New Binding On the other hand, In Tall Grass could be the cover of a Kinks ditty, and Howl and Sirena veer (unsuccessfully) into country-pop territory. The heavily distorted chant Beast Go Along signals the beginning of a more experimental phase, as do the charming instrumental vignettes Pearl Into Sand and The Drowning Electric.

Tara Jane O'Neil's Where Shine New Lights (Kranky, 2014) wrapped in psychedelic transcendent tones, may denote the influence of Julia Holter's generation as it pushed the envelope of her dreamy style. The core consists of fragile lo-fi slo-core droning elegies like Wordless in Woods, which are sometimes too rarified (The Signal Lift borders on ambient music for airports). On the other hand, a bit more melody and This Morning Glory sounds like a slow-motion Beatles lullaby. The pulsating, ghostly Over Round In a Room Found and the thick abrasive drone-scape of Bellow Below as Above open new horizons. The stately, repetitive mantra-like New Lights for a Sky closes them.

She contributed the droning 20-minute Medusa Smack to the album Circle Four (2015) split with Eleh (John Brien).

She collaborated with keyboardist Wilder Zoby to create Music to Clean To (2016), notably the two lengthy pieces Mothership (16:07) and Desert Bouquet (13:39).

She also composed the music for choreographer Jmy Kidd's dance piece Magical Diagonal (2016).

Tara Jane O'Neil (Gnomonsong, 2017) is two albums in one. One was recorded in Chicago with James Elkington, Gerald Dowd, Nick Macri, and Mark Greenberg. The other one was recorded at her home in California with Devin Hoff, Wilder Zoby, Walt McClements and Jim James. The lively country-rock of Laugh is the exception. The bulk of the album consists of hazy and somnolent desert-pop melodies like Joshua, which reach the moribund extreme of Purple and Pink. Blow is soft pop in the tradition of Burt Bacharach.

She also composed the soundtrack for Nanako Hirose's film Yoake (2019).

O'Neil then recorded a "mixtape" of electronic versions of old songs by Boy George, Bananarama, Leonard Cohen, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Inxs: Songs for Peacock (2020).

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