Deeper Woods by Sarah Louise

Release date: May 11, 2018
Label: Thrill Jockey Records

Sarah Louise is one half of House and Land alongside Black Twig Picker’s fiddle player Sally Anne Morgan, a project in which they explore a shared love of traditional music and blend it with more contemporary approaches. She’s also made a couple of instrumental records showcasing her unique approach to 12-string acoustic guitar, creating her own tunings and picking patterns. Deeper Woods is her Thrill Jockey debut and sees her take a decisive step by leading with her voice. 

She has produced and engineered most of the record herself at her home studio in the forests of North Carolina. As the title suggests it’s heavily informed by her relationship with the landscape that surrounds her. Morgan and a couple of other collaborators contribute here and there but it feels a very personal record and, as much as it’s informed by the outdoors, very interior as well. It’s a delicate and meandering walk through sun dappled woods.

Opener ‘Bowman’s Root’ takes it’s name from a hardy perennial flower, her nimble guitar and keening voice lead over loose rumbling percussion. “Here I sit in wonder, here I sit listening” she sings, outlining the general mood, before it comes to an almost abrupt halt in a clearing. The songs don’t appear to be stream of consciousness but they have that sense of possibility, it’s not easy to make out the words as the flow of the vocal sounds is what dominates. Although her playing is rooted in Appalachian mountain music it has a loose improvisatory feel to it. Not leaning into old structures but wandering about in exploratory fashion. It isn’t exactly psych-folk or wyrd folk or whatever but it’s at the far end of the valley. Deeper Woods indeed.

On the properly lovely ‘The Field That Touches My House And Yours’ she abandons the guitar altogether and the song is carried on a shimmering heat haze of keys and synthesizers. It makes sense that these pieces began with her voice, they seem to follow where it leads, a winding path into the woods. It’s a high folk voice, occasionally given to mannerisms of style but for the most part following it’s own idiosyncratic impulses and periodically weaving in and out of it’s overdubbed self to charming effect. ‘Up On The Ridge’ and ‘On Nights When I Can’t Sleep’ both stretch out past seven minutes, beginning with a loose verse structure and seeming to dissolve along the path. ‘On Nights…’ in particular seems continually on the edge of stopping or taking a new turn.

On the sweet final track ‘Fire Pink And Milkweed’ she sings a cappella accompanied by a chorus of her own overdubbed vocals. It’s a strong effect, the takes in harmony with but also across one another like a trio of unrehearsed sisters singing an old mountain ballad. There’s a stillness in it’s centre and sorrow and joy and beauty and time wrap around it in ways the rest of the album has only hinted at returning us from the forest to hearth and home.

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