Record Review

Phases and Stages


Songs in a Northern Key (E-Squared/Artemis)

The winter of Anders Parker's discontent, Sweet Life, chronicled Jan/Feb 1998 in upstate New York, thaws on Varnaline's first album in three years, but Songs in a Northern Key remains borne of a climate where the days are short and the nights last forever. Ostensibly a solo effort featuring bandmates Jud Erhbar and Anders' brother John, Varnaline's fifth release was conceived "one stoney night" on a frozen lake in Vermont, where creaking, groaning ice brought forth music. Some of the most melodically uplifting music Anders Parker has written. While the gauzy, acoustic twinkle of opener "Still Dream," which fades to the sound of chirping wildlife, will probably alienate Varnaline's more alienated fans, as will Sugar-y rejoiners "Song" and "Indian Summer Takedown," Parker's tunefulness blossoms here like May flowers. The singer's rustling voice and muted musical palette colors Songs in a Northern Key in Varnaline's perpetually overcast glow, but the disc's loosely seasonal song cycle ("decaying wishes and aluminum dreams" writes Parker in the CD's press) are as crisp and bracing as an afternoon spent skating on the aforementioned lake of ice. The deep autumn browns of "Blackbird Fields," George Harrison guitar garnishing tall and proud "Blue Flowers on the Highway," and polished Crazy Horse snort of "Let It All Come Down" all ring with a clarity not heard since Varnaline's austere A Shot and a Beer EP. Things get murky toward the end, but by then, Northern lights have pierced the night. (Anders Parker opens for Richard Buckner at the Cactus Cafe, Friday & Saturday, Sept. 14 & 15.)


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