Ring is the third album from Birmingham, AL act Delicate Cutters. Despite the teenage emo name of the band and the generally goth cover photo for this record, the band are actually a sort of country act. They are led by singer/guitarist Janet Simpson and fiddler Kevin Nicholson. The presence of "lead fiddle" and Simpson's voice makes this band sound like The Dirty Three collaborating with Azure Ray. Well, that is, when the recording works...
You see, Delicate Cutters, like so many acts out there, don't really know how to record their music. This album was recorded by layering the sounds on top of each other, like someone was trying to make a sandwich. And music is not a sandwich! In this specific case, they recorded a drum track, then on top of that they layered a bass track, then a guitar track, and then the voice and/or fiddle. This is the exact opposite of how you hear music in a live experience. Live, the sounds all come at you pretty much at once, and the relative volume level of the sounds can depend on which musician you stand in front of. Not so with this record -- Simpson is way up front most of the time, and occasionally Nicholson is. The rest of the band are playing somewhere down the hall...
The recording weakens the strength of these songs. Who ever produced this album needs to be slapped.
Consider the tune Backup Plan, which is a decent pop tune. No one element of the band is doing anything out of the ordinary, and in fact it moves along happily. However, Simpson's voice is layered so loud that it sounds like she is standing right in front of you, yelling into the microphone, while the rest of the band is 200 feet away. That disparity is disturbing, and ruins an otherwise pleasant song.
Most of the tracks on this record are unbalanced like that. However, there are a few places where the record really works.
Warm Day in April seems better balanced than many of the tunes here. Simpson's strums her acoustic while she clearly yet lightly sings her words. Eventually they layer in an audio loop that sounds like a TV playing in the background. That adds a little depth to this slowish tune, and in fact reminds me of O+S.
Rattling from Our Cages starts with Simpson singing delicately over western twang with harsh clattering guitars. This sounds like Myssouri collaborating with Azure Ray, a mixture of dark and delicate all wrapped in a country feel, and it really works. Towards the end, Nicholson's fiddle swells up to the front, like The Dirty Three overwhelming those two other bands. In this case, the dynamic change really works, increasing the moody tension of the song.
I am also rather pleased with New Life. This tune starts out with delicate guitar balanced with a subdued fiddle bit. This meanders along as a pleasant pop song, toe-tappingly happy and nice. And then, in the last half, the band cuts loose, Nicholson sawing at his fiddle while the guitar goes into overdrive and the drummer pounds his kit. As if, suddenly, the need for a new life becomes desperate. I like the transition -- Delicate Cutters really channel The Dirty Three here.
Those three songs work, and in fact are pretty strong. If Delicate Cutters had made a full album like that, i would be screaming their praises from the highest point on the internet! However, it is obvious that despite some good ideas and a healthy dose of talent, they don't have a clue as to how to present themselves in a recording. And that is a darned shame...
I wonder how they are live?