ALBUM REVIEW: “The Jessamine County Book of the Living” by Matt Bauer

June 07. 2011 | By Carlos Cisneros

Matt Bauer
The Jessamine County Book of the Living
[Crossbill Records]

The Jessamine County Book of the Living by Matt Bauer is a unique, Iron & Wine-ish, Sufjan-esque album full of banjos, strings, brass, woodwinds, chimes, and a beautiful and delicate portrait of the natural world. Initially the mellow opener “Useless is Your Armor” was not particularly engaging, but by mid-album, I came to notice that the track makes more sense in the context of the entire album.

Although the Sam Beam and Sufjan Stevens comparisons will no doubt follow Bauer due to his vocals and use of a wide range of instruments, the album has moments of brilliance and beauty that have no comparison among Bauer’s folk contemporaries. The album does require some patience, as most of the impressive experimentation occurs mid-song. The theme that centers on the natural world may not be appealing to some especially when it’s present in each song.

Structurally and lyrically “Blacklight Horses” is a five-minute masterpiece that will carry you along with its male/female vocal harmony and loud-soft dynamics created by a wonderful string section. “All The Wolves That I’ve Known” continues the album in similar fashion, strings a plenty and delicate and fragile piano chords throughout. Overall, Matt Bauer is a brilliant and honest musician who has carefully crafted an album centered around a theme – a theme that easily could turn uninteresting. He finds the perfect balance in his music and lyrics to remain engaging across the album’s ten-song tracklist.

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