Michael Rank and Stag: Horsehair

MichaeRankAndStag_HorsehairPowerful, tightly-crafted down-tempo Americana

Punk rockers make great roots music. Well, ex-punk rockers, at least. Having blazed through their 20s and 30s, they have a special appreciation for music that’s slower, quieter and more internal. Michael Rank is one such ex, having released a half-dozen indie albums with Snatches of Pink, and a pair as Clarissa, Rank’s rock years finally ended with 2007’s Love is Dead. It was a fitting title to segue into Rank’s solo career, which would be preoccupied with the end of a long-term relationship. Rank works with a shifting group of North Carolina musical compatriots known as Stag, and selfreleases his albums.

His solo work quickly gained fiddle, mandolin and steel, slowly turned down the volume, moved the electric guitars from center stage, and dropped the drums on some tracks. As the arrangements got more sparse, Rank adjusted to the extra room, singing more to himself than trying to muscle his way past the instruments. The results have been increasingly confessional, and by this fifth solo release, almost lost in thought. Rank sings of romantic wounds that haven’t healed, and his downtrodden mood is amplified beautifully by the harmony vocals of Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire.

Rank sounds beaten, like one of Chris Knight’s protagonists with the fight drained from him. But his glass can also be half full, as he finds the assets of a former relationship living in the son born of that union. Rank and McEntire’s vocals frame a moment of mutual realization on “Trails,” with James Wallace’s droning organ providing the suggestion of a flatlining heart monitor. The duo’s vocals blend seamlessly on “Horseman,” there’s a Stones influence on the rustic “Mexico,” and the closer suggests Neil Young’s “Helpless.” This is a beautifully balanced album with natural vocals and downbeat tempos that let the anguish bloom. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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