Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring

Bob Burnett: I remember as a child spending many days exploring the attic in my home. My mom would put down the ladder and I’d climb up. I pulled up an old carpet and made myself a little spot—featuring an old couch, some book cases and a table. I dug through boxes and other stored things and pulled out anything that caught my eye; my dad’s old sports photos, trophies, needlepoint decorations from Christmases past.

All this set-up isn’t because I felt like telling you a cold winter night’s tale of my youth but because listening to Tin Hat’s new album The Sad Machinery of Spring reminds me of those wonderful times in the attic. The album, their fifth in ten years, is a collection of songs that, like things you find by rummaging in the attic, create little precious moments and make your imagination soar.

Tin Hat (known as Tin Hat Trio in a C60 review of an earlier album) continue their wonderful simplicity of bringing together strains of jazz, folk, klezmer, classical, etc. into predominantly instrumental chamber music that blends composed scores with improvisation for a distinct language that is all their own. The current line-up features Tin Hat founders Carla Kihlstetdt (violin and voice) and Mark Orton (guitar and dobro), joined by Ben Goldberg (clarinets) and Tom Waits sideman Ara Anderson (trumpet, harmonium, glockenspiel). “Downtown” NYC improvisation scene member Zeena Parkins (harp and accordion) has been elevated to a full time member too.

In addition to their official above-listed primary instruments, each member (besides Parkins) plays a wide range of other borderline obscure instruments such as marxophone, celeste, and bowed vibes. Apparently Carla Kihlstedt even tackles the bul-bul tarang, known as the banjo of India. The amazing thing to me is that the album doesn’t sound like an ice cream truck menagerie but is settled, spacious and spare. One cut in particular, “The Comet” is a flowing gem of subtle weaves. Underneath the melody, carried by dobro and violin, are pulsing baritone horns, clarinet, and accordion.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of this album—here it is February and BBC critic Peter Marsh calls it "record of the year material." That may be well and good, but for me it’s 2007's frontrunner for best album to listen to in the attic.

CLICK HERE to buy this CD if you're in the U.S.

CLICK HERE to buy this CD if you're in Germany

CLICK HERE to buy this CD if you're in the U.K.

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