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WesternSFA


CAUTIONARY TALES CD
by Charming Disaster
$10 digital
https://charmingdisaster.bandcamp.com/album/cautionary-tales

This 2016 release consists of 10 songs written, composed and sung by by Ellia Bisker and Jeffrey Morris, all of them an intriguing and melodic mix of the macabre, the imaginative, and the romantic.Theirs is in one of those extraordinary collaborations of mutual genius that seems to imbue whatever they create with an extra dimension. I met Bisker and Morris at a filking convention where they were guest performers, and was utterly charmed.  They are consummate performance artists, with great stage presence and audience interaction. If anyone out there wants a truly memorable act for an event, consider booking Charming Disaster. You can check out their videos on You Tube for a sample.

The first song, “Sympathetic Magic”, is about a long distance relationship maintained by sending kisses and other messages by means of a voodoo doll.  Did I not say these songs were imaginative? “Snake Bit”, a duet sung by Orpheus and Euridice, has a jazzy melodic line and an ear-wormy chorus.  Even without knowing the classical allusions, it is clear that these lovers are estranged by more than death.  A different Greek myth is the inspiration for “Selene and Endymion”: the immortal goddess of the moonlight and the mortal shepherd she falls in love with.  In order to prolong his life without reducing him to a cricket — that’s another myth — Endymion sleeps most of his life away.  This song’s protagonists are both human, and they long to find a way for their love to be eternal, with continuity and gentleness.  The first line is the essential question that, in various forms, nearly all lovers ponder, and sometimes dare to ask. A rare and wonderful love song.

“Phosphorescent Lilies” is like one of those dreams you always wish you could get back to. It has gorgeous, simple, descriptive lyrics set to languid rhythms, about coming to a place that is Shambala and over the rainbow and the land the Fab Four sailed to in the Yellow Submarine all rolled into one. The recurring question is, “What will you cast away?” to stay in such a place.  It reminds me of “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead in some ways.

“Ragnarok” includes lyrics derived from the Norse myth of the end of times for Odin and the Aesir gods: “Axe time, sword time… wind time, wolf time,” but applies them to an immanent future as modern lovers, or perhaps friends, anticipate the end of the world.  Delicate guitar playing forms a lovely contrast with the driving drumlins.

“Little Black Bird” is the song the cover art illustrates. In it, a fox and a crow form a threatened alliance as they both try to escape what hunts them, and remember what they were before they were enchanted. They may have to face death, but they can do so together.

“Days are Numbered” uses deliberate, descending dissonance to create a mood that matches the lyrics about spies and their methods. It is clever, edgy, and will remind you of all your favorite spy thrillers. (Mine include Hopscotch and Blade on the Feather, aka Deep Cover, by Dennis Potter.) 

“Infernal Soiree” is an eerie waltz lament, a fairy tale trapped in a loop.  What is it like, after all, to be stuck in a place of unresolved horror, glossed with the trappings of wealth, with no steadfast soldier or faithful gardener to break the spell? What if there never was a respite for the twelve dancing princesses and their enchanted partners? 

“What Remains” sounds like a very old song; if you time-travelled back two hundred years or more you could just about get away with singing this one in any home or traveler’s inn; the only anachronism would be the phrase “it’s okay”.  The biblical allusion really works well, as does the extremely unusual instrumentation. 

“String Break Song” is a scientific lament about the inevitability of entropy and death — sort of ‘They Might Be Giants’ Science CD crossed with Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory”, as sung by Pink Floyd. 

I hope this review conveys something of the originality, the superb musicianship, and the delightfulness of these songs, dark as the subject matter sometimes is. And kudos to the additional band members: Don Godwin (bass, horns, percussion) , Noah Hoffield (cello) and Marandy Hostetter (violin); their contributions are part of the magic. — Chris Wozney

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