OxFolk Reviews: ‘Bird’s Nest’

Ben Ray looks at the latest album 'Bird's Nest' by the instrumental band 'The Fretless'

The Fretless

It isn’t often that you come across instrumental music that is so beautiful that each track feels like brushstrokes in a piece of artwork. The Fretless’ latest album, ‘Bird’s Nest’, is difficult to describe, and art is perhaps the best way to convey the sublime harmonies and melodies the band manage to draw out of their instruments. As the name suggests, the group are made up of instruments from the violin family, with Karrnel Sawitsky, Trent Freeman and Ivonne Hernandez all on both fiddle and viola, and Eric Wright on cello. Although one may initially think this limits the range of musical style and depth available, this band manage to achieve the exact opposite: conjuring up a huge range of colours and moods, this band skilled adaption of fiddle tunes and folk melodies from around the world brings this album to life. Indeed, the ease with which this band portray the emotion and complexity of their music reflects the ease with which the listener can listen to the entire album in a single sitting.

This success is only to be expected of The Fretless, who have been gathering accolades and awards since their debut release, Waterbound, in 2012. Their innovative mix of fiddle styles create a fascinating mix of rhythm, harmony and structure that is fully present in ‘Bird’s Nest’- right from the opening track, ‘Alphonzo McKenzie’s’, with a racing fiddle under-laid by smooth, rolling chords from the other instruments denotes the unique, newly forged style of the band. With each track another new interpretation and facet of the band’s skill shines through- and manages to hold the listener’s interest without it ever sounding stale and repetitive. The varying backgrounds of the group massively enhance the diverse sounds in this album (Sawitsky is steeped in the fiddle tradition of the Canadian region of Saskatchewan, whilst Freedman’s playing owes influences from both jazz and rock): for instance, the interesting time signatures and smooth, waltz-like qualities of ’38 & Gone’ contrast wonderfully with the interpretation of traditional tunes such as ‘Maybe Molly’. Each tune also has a fascinating backstory- with many tunes written by band members, they feel like intimate renditions of personal anecdotes. For example, the track ‘Ronim Road/Bella Coola’, written by Sawitsky, was inspired by a late night expedition down an eerie track on his parents’ farm in his home region of Canada, whilst ‘Hidden View’ comes from Wright’s stay in the Glacier National Park of Montana, where forest fires constantly obscured his view. These individual links somehow give each track an added depth and dimension that really help to bring the album to life, and almost giving it the feeling of a conversation between you and the music.

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The bright, attractive album casing for ‘Bird’s Nest’ mirrors its music in many ways- both ask to be revisited, to be admired, but most of all to be enjoyed. Fretless describe themselves as having ‘all the energy of fiddle tunes, whilst shattering all expectations’. In doing this with their recent album, they have simultaneously lived up to their well-earned reputation- and created a truly beautiful collection of tunes at the same time.