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Faun Fables

+ {Dawn McCarthy &…}

From beneath the undergrowth of a bleak forest somewhere in a land close to nothing and faraway as possible from any “folks”, come FAUN FABLES (the mind-blowing brainchild of Washington lady, Dawn McCarthy). Actually instigated in Oakland, California around 1997, Dawn the Faun has a penchant for everything arty, pagan and ethereal. On a par with the late, great NICO, DAGMAR KRAUSE or freak-folk contemporaries like JOANNA NEWSOM, JOSEPHINE FOSTER or MARISSA NADLER, McCarthy reached new heights (or indeed lows) in experimental indie folk – delete as appropriate.
Recorded after her extremely low-key cd-r debut (FAUN’S FABLES) in 1998 and also self-released a year later, the eerie EARLY SONG {*5} established the howling banshee as a protagonist or catalyst in the new world of nocturnal noise. Described as “near and dear to her heart” (one hopes it’s where it should be), the set suffered from dull arrangements, especially in her brooding readings of traditional cues such as `Old Village Churchyard’, `Only A Miner’, and two live numbers `Honey Babe Blues’ and `O Death’ – blues/folk purists beware. Of the songs that retain some sort of folk semblance, the yodelling `Ode To Rejection’ comes close to anything remotely described within folk, Appalachian or otherwise. Parallel to her next set, the record was belatedly issued in 2004 (with bonus cuts) by her label, Drag City.
With multi-instrumentalist/sidekick Nils Frykdahl (of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) on board, MOTHER TWILIGHT (2001) {*7}, marked a musical upturn, although this wasn’t to say she’d walked out on her wigged-out, transcendental-like meditations. One difference was her newfound and creative use of serpentine melody, especially on opening salvos `Begin’ and `Sleepwalker’. With a running time of 62 minutes, one could at least decipher the tunes from the chaff (check out `Traveller Returning’, `Lightning Rods’ and `Girl That Said Goodbye’ compared to `Train’, `Washington State’ or `Beautiful Blade’). Like some outtake from The Wicker Man or LISA GERRARD soundtrack, `Moth’, is the flyer here, hypnotic and her best up to now.
Filled with the same passion and mysticism, FAMILY ALBUM (2004) {*8}, was worthy of return fare, Dawn’s pseudo operatic enactments exorcising ghostly demons of some other world. `Eyes Of A Bird’ (featuring her sister Sheila McCarthy on drums) is particularly intense and hypnotic, while Nils gets in his two-penn’orth by way of the Uriah Priest-ish (sic), `Lucy Belle’, `Rising Din’ and the duet, `Still Here’. But it’s the wee faerie herself, McCarthy, who steals the oblique limelight; she’s altogether enchanting and indeed folky on gems like `Joshua’, `Old And Light’, `Fear March’ and the pixie-yodel number, `Mouse Song’. There are a few more spaced-out oddities here, none more so than `Nop Of Time’, written and sung by 7-year old Cassie Rorie, an English reading of early 60s Polish theatre “Karuzela Madonnami” (`Carousel With Madonnas’), the BJORK-ish cover of Brigitte Fontaine’s `Eternal’ and the uplifting congregational trad dirge `Higher’.
Written, developed and premiered on stage in 2002, THE TRANSIT RIDER {*8}, soundtrack finally saw light of day in 2006. The poignantly-titled `Birth’ opens the set by way of an eerie ghost-train backdrop, while the lush, minstrel-like `Transit Theme’ (think DEAD CAN DANCE in cabaret) has an almost wobbly carousel feel. From the medieval Anglo-Saxon days, Dawn uproots a biblical reading of `House Carpenter’ (once the acquisition of BAEZ, PENTANGLE, MR. FOX, etc.), a record contrasted by the Swans-like dual vox of Nils on `In Speed’. From a 1963 poem from the pen of Polish songwriter, Zygmunt Conieczny, the 8-minute `Taki Pejzaz’ (translated into English as `Such A Landscape’), is the most gothic, ambitious and dramatic of FAUN FABLES repertoire – bar none. The tenacious Nils was afforded two cues, the acidic-ballad of `Roadkill’, the Kurt Weil-esque `Fire And Castration’ and the Erik Satie-meets-Tom Waits-like `The Corwith Brothers’, but it’s Dawn’s delicious rendition of The SINGING NUN/Soeur Sourire’s `I’d Like To Be’, that closes out a great show.
After an invitation to sing on BONNIE PRINCE BILLY’s “The Letting Go” in 2006, DAWN McCARTHY & Bonny Billy (aka WILL OLDHAM) released the demo recordings as WAI NOTES (2007) {*5}. One probably for purist fans only, the rough-edged 10-track CD (complete with hiss) nevertheless clocked up two beauts, `God Is Love’ and `The Signifying Wolf’. FAUN FABLES seemed to be taking a hard-earned sabbatical, until…
With only four tracks clocking in at 17-minutes, McCarthy, Frykdahl and cohorts (Meredith Yayanos on violin and producer Matt Waldron of NURSE WITH WOUND on percussion), `A Table Forgotten’ (2008), packed quite a punch. Hopefully these gems will re-appear at some time on a future album. But for now, fans would and should’ve been content with another intoxicating and earthy hibernation full-set LIGHT OF A VASTER DARK (2010) {*8}, a record that swept from old-timey minstrel-esque movements to pastoral psychedelic atmospherics, performed by Dawn, Nils, Meredith and recent recruits Kirana Peyton (multi), Cornelius Boots (wind) and Mark Stikman (harmonica); check out `Violet’, the title track and `Hibernation Tales’.
Together again for another round of retro-fied folk, Dawn and Billy delivered WHAT THE BROTHERS SANG (2013) {*7}. Developing and transporting the works of harmony-duo The EVERLY BROTHERS into modern-day unison, the pair achieved their goals on the BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-like `Milk Train’, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON’s `Breakdown’, the Ron Elliott-penned `Empty Boxes’, Jackie Edwards’ `Somebody Help Me’ (known better to SPENCER DAVIS GROUP fans) and the glowing Boudleaux & Felice Bryant classic, `Devoted To You’.
Approaching six years since Dawn McCarthy’s FAUN FABLES turned in a full set, 2016’s pagan-ist BORN OF THE SUN {*8} shone out from under the stars, moon and heavens above; examples: Polish folk song `Ta Nasza Mlodisc’ (meaning “In Our Youth”) and Nils’ earthy and organic `Madmen & Dogs’. Indeed, campfire-folk would never sound more eerier. Re-imagining a fantasy-league WATERSONS or CURRENT 93 playing together at The Wicker Man Festival (via the original occult movie set OST!), McCarthy and partner Frykdahl (plus Jenny Scheinman on violins and Mark Stikman on harmonica), not so much hug the trees, as dance ritually around them (a la `Invitation’). Raising the bar when weaving wood-shed madrigals, `O My Stars’, `YDUN’ and the almost healing `Country House Walls’, FAUN FABLES cast their spell without wand in hand, hypnotising a fresh circle of converts unto their cathartic coven.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jul2013-Jul2016

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