Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem Create Another Winner

RANI ARBO & daisy mayhem
Violets are Blue
Signature 2074
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"Americana" is such an ambiguous label that it often seems to connote little more than a song sung in English. If, on the other hand, we use the term to denote the ways in which American music cross-fertilizes, surely daisy mayhem is among the best exemplars of Americana. Rani Arbo reminds me of Nanci Griffith–not the voice, but in the way each chooses music that inspires them and let others fret over what to call it. You know you're on a unique ride from the start; Violets are Blue opens with an Arbo original, "Heart of the World," that unfurls with just Arbo's voice and Scott Kessel's percussion before any other instruments appear. With Kessel, though, you can be sure there will be twists. Want to know what happens to the junk you throw away? Kessel retrieves it and adds it to his ever-evolving collection of things upon which to bang. The band follows with an Appalachian-influenced song ("Down by the Water"), a bit of country folk–Arbo's "Keep it in Mind" would feel at home on a Bill Staines album–and then the hard-driving "Around the Wheel," with especially crisp work from bassist Andrew Kinsey and fret meister Anand Nayak. Still to come is music with a decided mountain feel ("You Should See Me Now"), the Cajun-flavored "Swing Me Down") a splash of honky tonk ("Over and Over"), some torchy blues ("I'm Satisfied with You"), and a cover of May Erlewine's "I Love this City" that reminds us that folks from the Delta created the Motown sound. If pure acoustic folk is your thing, Ms. Arbo has penned two gorgeous songs for this album: "Piece of Land," whose tune is faintly reminiscent of the opening strains of Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle;" and "Sweet and Bitter," a heartbreakingly lovely song about love tinged with uncertainty. The latter is the album's final track, but in many ways it's the theme song. The very title of Violets are Blue is clever wordplay, as is most of the album's selections touch upon affairs the heart. Kinsey, however, correctly notes that they are "sugar-free love songs." About what we'd expect from this topnotch, mature string band with its superb musicianship, tight harmonies, solid rhythms, and grown-up takes on life. Everyone in the band can/does sing and occasionally one of the lads takes the lead, but there just isn't too much that compares to Rani Arbo, one of the most distinctive voices in the business. Fifteen years on the road has just made it better and the journey seems to have nourished her Americana soul as well.  Rob Weir

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