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    Big Harp

    Chain Letters

    Big Harp - Chain Letters

    2013 | Saddle Creek 

    • CD




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    All Music Guide Review

    For those who were introduced to the laid-back indie Americana sound of Big Harp through their acclaimed 2010 debut White Hat, Chain Letters is going to come as a shock. Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife duo Christopher Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney have evolved as a musical unit. While the lyric and melodic essence of what makes their songs unique remains, they've liberated themselves from White Hat's limited sonic palette. The sound of Chain Letters is built around Stefanie's bass; it's the glue on this album. It's dirty, loud, gritty, and drenched in fuzz -- the dominant engine. Chris' guitar playing is heavily reverbed and soaked in a post-rockabilly, bluesy angularity that lends its heft to every song. (Acoustic guitars don't even make an appearance until "Bar the Doors," the album's fifth track.) John Voris and Ben Brodin add drums and percussion, respectively. Chain Letters is an amalgam of raw, restless country gospel, retro-electric blues, and roots rock & roll. The grain in Chris' voice digs deeply into his lyrics -- whether crooning or snarling -- underscoring their consistent poignancy. "You Can't Save 'Em All" is a clattering rocker that offers four colliding narratives; it expresses a truth that's inherent in every tragic situation: the desire to offer assistance doesn't guarantee redemption for either party. Stefanie's fuzzed bass underscores every line as a prophetic statement. Chris' guitar meets her distorted rhythmic intensity head-on amid skittering snares. The deep blues-gospel in "Some People Are Born Strange" is haunted; the vocal is impure, with a moaning-at-midnight desolation. "Good News" is rockist old-school country-gospel. Chris' voice (and Stefanie's backing) rises above that roots wall of noise to lift the spirit amid everyday life's chaos. "Outside in the Snow" is the precursor to Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," but nearly 50 years after the fact. The song's lyric is an exhortation to change perspective before tragedy occurs; its desire is redemption, not accusation. Stefanie's soaring '60s-style girl group vocal chorus illuminates the hope in Chris' warning. The charging "Micajah with His Hands Up" folds gospel and rockabilly raggedly. It's a plea of confused, conditional surrender from a life in ruins; it burns with indignation, self-righteousness, and yearning. "Call Out Your Cavalry," with its shambolic accordion, thumping bass drum, and parlor room tempo vibe, is Stephen Foster via Tav Falco. Chris' ragged baritone reveals loss and hope held in a taut, urgent balance, despite the sweetness in the song's melody and relaxed tempo. Chain Letters is an evolutionary step. Idiosyncratic, revelatory, raucous, it's a nasty, beautiful rock & roll baptism in pleasure, both carnal and spiritual. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

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