4AD /Reprise Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Usually, when I throw a CD into the player from a group that I've never heard from before, it's the result of some enterprising person at a record company trying to push a band into the media spotlight. The results are kind of like playing Russian Roulette - sometimes it's good, sometimes it's messy.

In the case of today's review, my contact at 4AD isn't to blame, it's me. After surfing their site, I wrote to him and said, "Hey, Tarnation sounds like they'd be a cool band to review. Mind sending me a copy of their disc?"

And I blame myself for liking their sophomore effort, Mirador, to the point of calling it one of the better releases I've blasted in the Pierce Archives (Dave Wannstedt, go to hell - and take the Bears with you) in a long time.

Led by multi-instrumentalist / vocalist Paula Frazer, Tarnation reminds me a lot of a slightly harder-edged Cowboy Junkies. Someone who picked up this disc expecting to hear the ambient noise long associated with bands on the 4AD label will be in for one hell of a shock. Folk? Country-western? How dare they?

Yes, how dare they indeed - Tarnation dares to blend these with a touch of alternative thrown in to create a genre all its own. And while it may take a listen or two to grow accustomed to, it's definitely worth the effort.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Frazer's vocals go from a deadpan delivery to higher-octave wailing (without the Paula Cole-like hystrionics) flawlessly. In fact, I found myself occasionally hypnotized by the laid-back, almost deadpan delivery at times. It's not that Frazer is bored; it's just that she knows how to get her point across without blowing out your eardrums while shouting it out.

Numbers like "Christine," "A Place Where I Know" and "An Awful Shade Of Blue" push the envelope of alternative music in a powerfully unique way. And the power , surprisingly enough, lies in the subduedness of the musical performances, a lesson learned well from bands like Cowboy Junkies. It sometimes is hard giving credit where credit is due (was that Frazer, Jamie Morgan, or Alex Oropeza responsible for that guitar work?), but maybe the multi-instrument talents of many of the band members is what makes Tarnation special. (I could name everyone, but you don't need me to re-write the liner notes.)

Tarnation isn't afraid to get a little ballsy on Mirdaor either. The best song on the disc, "Little Black Egg," is as solid of a rock number as the others are of their own self-created genre, complete with a guitar riff that could have come straight from the Gin Blossoms. Similarly, "There's Someone" has the courage to crank up the volume on Yuma Joe Byrnes's drums and pound out a solid rocker.

Of course, no album this daring would be complete without the uncredited bonus track - damn shame I don't know what its title is, because it was a decent effort - though I could have lived without the bizarre accordion "solo" about thirty seconds after the end of the song.

So what is the biggest challenge facing Tarnation? It's not songwriting - they seem to have that down pretty good. And it's not performance - I can't wait to get the chance to see them live. No, it's their audience - namely, trying to convince listeners so deeply rooted in their own favorite musical styles to try something new. Then again, Mrs. Pierce, an avid country music hater, actually didn't demand that I turn Mirador off when I was listening to it. (If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.)

Mirador is a pleasant but challenging listen, and is one that I'm glad I gave a chance to. Take the plunge; dare to listen to something that's not prepackaged-grunge-glam-soul-gangsta-hiphop-just-like-everybody-else shit. You'll soon discover that originality can be quite refreshing.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of 4AD /Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.