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3 Instruments And A Whole Lot Of Feeling

Dirty Three
Horse Stories
(Touch N Go)

This CD was my introduction to the amazing sound that was Dirty Three. I remember a couple years back reading a review in some magazine or the other praising the work of the Australian trio and mentioning that one of the members of the band was also one of those Bad Seeds that performed with Nick Cave. At the time, I remember wondering how a trio of only guitar, violin, and drums could create an entire album of original music that would hold my attention, let alone more than one. Of course, all my fears were laid to rest as soon as I heard the opening strains of "1000 Miles" on this very release.

With only very slight drums, some strumming of a guitar, and the quiet see-sawing of the violin, the song begins. Slowly and eventually, things fall into their respective places and the funeral march pace of the track almost lulls you off. That slow pacing continues into the beginning of the next track "Sue's Last Ride," but it doesn't hold for the entirety. The brushed drums and wailing violin wrap around one another and move upward and upward with a quickening tempo and a progressively harder edge. Eventually, all three instruments are embroiled in a furious crescendo and you're wondering how in the hell it's the same band it was only 5 minutes previously.

On "Hope" (one of my favorite tracks ever by the group), the delicate guitar work of Mick Turner and the alternating sounds of Warren Ellis' violin play amazingly off one another. During the 'verse' structure of the song, Ellis coaxes a sound from his violin that is nearly unrecognizable as a stringed instrument, instead sounding like a light flute or the musical embodiment of a person weeping. The group picks things up again with the waltzing sounds of "I Remember A Time When Once You Used To Love Me." Again, it's the play of the guitar and violin that make it such a great track (and a very raucous one at that), but the percussion of Jim White cannot be understated either. While much of the time his playing is very subdued, it is also the glue that holds the trio together much of the time. Whether he's lightly brushing a trap on the slower, album-closing "I Knew It Would Come To This" or the fever pitch backing "Red," he always manages to be in place with just the right amount of volume.

Overall, the album is a much more high-spirited affair than their later effort Ocean Songs. Over half of the tracks on the album build to a fierce level and even some of the tracks that start out at a more leisurely pace end up turning on the listener by the end. Like their other release, though, the songs are amazingly constructed and prove the fact that it doesn't take a ton of instruments or even vocals to create music that is highly emotive and expressive.

Rating: 8