Edith Frost
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Calling Over Time, 7/10
Telescopic , 8/10
Wonder Wonder , 6/10
It's A Game (2005), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Edith Frost, a singer-songwriter from Austin (Texas) with a background in old-time music and rockabilly revival combos, moved to New York and started performing solo. Her folksy debut EP, Evangeline (Drag City, 1995), located her personality somewhere between Palace Brothers's alt-country music, Nick Drake's mournful whisper, Kendra Smith's dreamy lullabies and classical folksinging a` la Joni Mitchell. Evangeline, Blame You and My God Insane introduce the listener to the ghosts and fantasies of her private world.

In the meantime she had moved to Chicago and started recording what would become Calling Over Time (Drag City, 1997), with the help of luminaries Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day), Rian Murphy (Royal Trux), David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol) and Jim O'Rourke. Temporary Loan, Too Happy and the other gems of the album pick up a broad range of influences, ranging from Nanci Griffith to Freakwater, and project them on a solemn stream of consciousness. Frost's roots in the 1930's and the 1950's (from the Carter Family to Hank Williams) still constitute the facade of her music, but undercurrents of noise-rock cause enough damage to continuously reshape the meaning of her sorrowful, minor-key, gently strummed ballads (and the closing Albany Blues, the least Frost-ian song, seems the product of that "reshaping")> Frost is 33 and is far less spontaneous than she sounds.

Telescopic (Drag City, 1998) changes the rules of the game. Her singing is still that melancholy whisper, and her melodies are still those hypnotic lullabies. The pace is still sparsely solemn. Her attitude is still shy and introverted. But now her breezy contralto resonates against a backdrop of surreal arrangements, that do not hesitate to incorporate cello, violin, accordion, trombone, and mandolin. Each song slowly turns from a very personal whine into a feast of timbres. Frost emancipates her art from the tradition of the female folksinger the same way that Kendra Smith and Lisa Germano did. Especially the latter is Edith Frost's only possible comparison.
A songs such as Walk On The Fire boasts literally layers and layers of sounds: first you have the heavy guitar feedback, then a piano ringing in the background, then a cello that surfaces in the main refrain. The drums hammer the arrangement and the angelic tune with a steady and noisy beat. The violin and the mandolin duel around one of her best melodies in Light, among echoes of slavic and greek folk music sentimentally lulled in a waltz-like rhythm. A "Mitteleuropean" accordion wraps up the simultaneously tuneful and funereal refrain of You Belong To No One. Another masterpiece is Tender Kiss, a slow and desperate litany that opens with a polirhythm reminiscent of the Who's Magic Bus. The shameless cry of a gypsy violin and a majestic solo of the flute crown the ghostly atmosphere.
The guitar is the most devastating of these sound effects, and the only one that can truly derail the song. Then Frost's music can drift as far to the border of grunge and acid-rock. Slightly faster and upbeat The Very Earth indulges in languid Hawaian laments of slide guitar while the electric guitar "drills" its cacophonous feedbacks. My Capture swim in a magma of meowing sounds, a surreal contrast to the robust beat and the loud guitar refrain.
One of the most "poppish" moments occurs when she hums Bluish Bells on the steady beat of a piano. The overall feeling is that of a late Beach Boys' track played at half speed.
Frost's soul is bare, on the other hand, in songs such as On Hold, Telescopic and Through The Trees where her melancholy style approaches Nick Drake-level depths. These are the most subtle and delicate moments, and no less musical than the elaborate songs. The depressed mood thickens with the hypnotic country dirge of Falling.
The album closes with the requiem of Are You Sure, another poppish number whispered at half speed, and this time coupled with a harrowing organ drone.

Only Lisa Germano has done so much to reinvent the folk ballad and to broaden the search for inner truth.

The single Love Is Real (Drag City, 1999) was a compromise between the humble hymns of the first album and the bleak passion plays of the second album.

Frost is co-author of the supersession Tramps Traitors and Little Devils (Drag City, 2001) with Smog and Neil Hagerty and contributes Leaving The Army and One Chord Complaint.

Wonder Wonder (Drag City, 2001) takes a relaxed, optimistic look at sentimental life, boosted by a slightly more upbeat and generally good-humored sound. The ensemble includes Eleventh Dream Day's Rick Rizzo, Archer Prewitt, Poi Dog Pondering's violinist Susan Voelz, Boxhead Ensemble's bassist Ryan Hembrey and cellist Amy Domingues. The album is dotted with odd tunes like the melodramatic, street-organ waltz Fear and the goofy, county-fair novelty Wonder Wonder. Despite a rather limite vocal range, Frost even measures up to the solemn pop progression of Cars And Parties. Her poetic art is better represented by the tender music-box of Who (with loud, psychedelic bangs of percussions and waves of mellotron) by the pristine acoustic gem Hear My Heart and by the unabashedly romantic closer You're Decided, while the violin-driven country dirges (Further, Honey Please) that suddenly reveal her roots are a little trivial.
Production and arrangement are probably not the best suited for her music (a little too whimsical, but still thin and insecure), and the lyrics are a tad too childish this time around, but even this transitional album still manages to capture some of the magic of Telescopic.
On the other hand, Frost is reinventing herself as a magnificent voice of the apocalypse, her songs enhanced with arrangements that are almost childish but that seem to announce biblical catastrophes. She is doing to folk music what the first Velvet Underground album did to rock music in the 1960s: carve a bleakly subliminal, darkly metaphysical, cruelly hellish space beneath a perfectly innocent surface.

It's A Game (Drag City, 2005) contains the piano meditations Emergency and It's a Game but overall it sounds too superficial and smooth.

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