3 out of 5
Produced by: Pelt
Taken song by song, the three tracks on Pelt’s Pearls From the River are some of the band’s – here narrowed down to the core trio of Jack Rose, Mike Gangloff, and Patrick Best – most enveloping and emotive work. Opener Up the North Fork, recalling, both in title and its fokly tone, the work of Gangloff’s Black Twig Pickers, has dueling banjos (Rose and Gangloff) and cello (Best), gently plucking until the cello hits on a head-bobbing beat about halfway through. The way it cuts out at the end renders it sort of slight, but its an appreciably upbeat introduction into the album. The twenty minute title track appropriately flows from surges from each contributor – guitar, esraj, bass – the esraj absolutely making this into a raga, and while it definitely leans into drone, the way the trio each come to signaled stopping points, only for another player to pick up the pace, speaks to the possibilities and spirit of improvisation, and makes those twenty minutes surprisingly involving. Closer Road to Catwaba has Gangloff switching out the esraj for tamboura, again making it sound like a raga, with Jack’s twinkling playing very open-ended; the soundtrack to a contemplative journey on said road.
But what’s missing here is something linking these three tracks. While the instruments used, and the pacing, certainly has them sounding similar, they’re three pretty separate experiences. Folk rave-up; improv jam; raga bliss-out. None of these modes are alien to Pelt, but Pearls From the River presents them like they’re collected singles, only united on an album because they needed a place to go. Which unfortunately makes it a disc I don’t revisit too often, even though listening to any given track is to be swept up by it.