review : Geoff Farina 'The Wishes of the Dead'

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I've lived with a copy of this album for quite a few weeks now and I will admit that it is a slow-burner, but in its own gentle way the tunes creep up on you and get under your skin.
Some of you may know Geoff Farina from his 14 years leading Boston band Karate, or as part of the duo Secret Stars, or more recently from his folk based collaborative albums with Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, Consonant).
The Wishes of the Dead is his first outright solo album for 10 years, and is closer in sound to those Brokaw albums than anything else he has been involved with. In fact, three of the songs are slight reversions of songs that appeared on Farina and Brokaw's 2010 album The Boarder's Door.
The entire album is an acoustic performance from Geoff Farina, who shows his skills as both a songwriter and a guitarist. He is a musical historian and,as such, he has studied and regularly performed the music of guitarists such as Blind Arthur Blake, Elizabeth Cotton, and Mississippi John Hurt amongst many others. The music on this album will come as less of a surprise to Karate fans when you understand that.
Happily this isn't some obscure acoustic folk record aimed at the purists. Instead it is a collection of very fine songs that would appeal to fans of acoustic Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith.

Opening song Prick Up Your Ears sets an inviting tone, with light, deft guitar lines carrying an infectiously catchy tune.
Prelapsarian is one of the older songs, it is more downbeat and strangely poetic as it observes a life of drug addiction.
Hammer and Spade, which I keep calling the Wishes of the Dead because of the lyric that gave the album its title, is another great song with a singalong refrain and a little guitar run straight out of the history book.
Scotch Snaps takes the interest in older instruments even further, as it is actually a song about playing antique instruments and passing on songs through tradition. "can you show me just how to play the snaps on that old Strathspey, cos when I do it, it doesn't sound that way"
While that is a personal song about his musical interests, Twilit paints a picture of domestic drama. There's even a burst of electric guitar on this, which somehow makes the tale more modern.
Evergreen is more a folk ballad with soft finger picking and lyrics that tell of a trip to somewhere cold.
Both Stems and Semantics have more modern playing inflections and hint at a connection between the post-rock of Karate and the more trad influences.
The Dove and the Lamb is another tune dating from the Farina/ Brokaw album and it is complex yet melodic and almost hints at ragtime in places.

Ultimately The Wishes of the Dead works as both a fine collection of contemporary songs and a homage to legendary folk guitarists. The fact that it may make post-rock fans check out the recordings of Blind Willie Johnson or the Rev Gary Davis is an added bonus.

The Wishes of the Dead is out today on Damnably records in the UK. We will be publishing an interview with Geoff Farina later this week.

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