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Album Review

VANISH VALLEY
Yea, Though I Walk
Through the Valley

I may be out of my depth here. The promo sheets which accompanied Vanish Valley's self-titled album label the band “folk psychedelians” and I get it that some music is plain hard to categorize, but psychedelic I do not hear. I hear other genre-bending influences--- folk, country, a ton of alt's--- and the guy certainly has a poetic flair, but I just don't hear psych. Good thing is, this band doesn't need psych. They are a dust cloud of mood, up and down, and hardly need labels.

The guy who heads the project is one Andrew McAllister, formerly with Conrad Ford, a Seattle country-leaning band of some repute and these days, when it comes to country, I look to Seattle first thanks to Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers killer debut album. My friends up there tell me there is a burgeoning country/folk/bluegrass contingent in the area and maybe Conrad Ford had a part in that, but Vanish Valley sidesteps everything but the core in terms of such genres. There is no twang and there certainly isn't any down home feel. What there is is a vague Stephen King approach to what might otherwise have been common topics. In a musically cinematic way, McAllister steps out of a dust storm in filthy duster and spurs, cowboy hat sweaty and crusted with dirt. If you've seen the movie The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, you understand where I'm coming from. A few of the Vanish Valley tracks would fit on that soundtrack quite nicely.

In an odd kind of way, the music is both uplifting and troubling. The devil resides there no matter how positive McAllister tries to be. Not always upfront and not always noticeable, but there, nonetheless. Even amidst lighter and poppish fare such as Become the Night and Prettiest Girl From California, you hear it. In the guitar sound. In the voice. In the presentation. In the subject matter. It is not a bad thing. In fact, it gives a certain depth to the songs.

The closest they come to “country”, I suppose, is Great American Gold Mine which utilizes sparse acoustic guitar and banjo as backdrop, giving it a western desert aura. Songs like this make me wish for a lyric sheet so I could put all of the words together without having to listen hard but, alas, no lyric sheet exists online, at least that I can find. Each time through, I decipher more, but the meaning changes with mood and, what the hell, I may be reading too much into it anyway. I usually do when a song catches my fancy. A few others create a similar response in me and I think that addresses McAllister's prowess, if that be the word, as a storyteller and poet. That and the voice, which emanates from a world inhabited by the likes of Kristofferson and Prine and Guy Clark, makes the songs more than they are.

The song echoing in my head more than any is Prettiest Girl From California, though, which repeats the simple line “She's the prettiest girl from California, the prettiest girl I know” over and over with lethargic pace and catchy melody. It is stuck on repeat and plays again and again, but I don't mind. The song is a mere 1:53, according to the computer, and that is hardly enough time to wear out a welcome.

As far as the psych thing, maybe it's just me. Maybe psych doesn't mean what it used to anymore. Regardless, I find the music downright enjoyable and McAllister's voice and phrasing intriguing at the very least. It is growing on me.

Vanish Valley and Zoe Muth alternate play in the car these days. They provide outstanding driving music though they come from completely different places. Makes me want to take long drives, in fact. But with the price of gas these days, I'm going to have to find a better way of spending my time than writing reviews. Just doesn't pay. Of course, that might mean getting a real job and not listening to music any time I feel like it. Talk about a quandary...

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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