The Tree Farmer
Tome to the Weather Machine:
Though it sounds like The Tree Farmer was either recorded or dubbed a little bit hot with some noticeable distortions in the bass, the noise comes across almost as an intentional element to the compositions, giving these fragile melodies some grit, grime and bite that serves them surprisingly well. Cantrell's approach is a nice combination of folk stylings and psychedelic, raga-esque meanderings, which are much more rponounced on the b-side as in the lenghty "untitled (Morning)." Overall the tape has an outdoorsy quality to it, fire-pit guitar jams backed with soothing moans in the vocals. Cantrell's voice sounds pushed to hit some of the higher notes, straining to get up there, but delivering with an honest passion that reminds me a lot of Dean Wareham hammering out a Galaxie 500 classic. Able to raise goosebumps with stripped-down setups and simple songcraft, Cantrell (like Wareham) lets the performance and delivery do a hefty portion of the work. Some tracks are built around single chord strums while vocals and guitars whale on top, groaning in "Late Aster Girl"'s battered beauty, the mix bludgeoned with bass as a backbeat ticks its way across the piece's breadth. Teeth-grinding moments here for sure, but also thrilling, aching, and altogether gorgeous.
I don't have a ton of info on Clay Cantrell's history, but if this were his debut I'd be majorly surprised. Cantrell is a gifted songwriter and a pretty good player, too. His spacing and timing throughout The Tree Farmer is impecible, allowing jams to extend and swirl themselves into satisifying sections of sheer psychedelia when appropriate. Elsewhere, finger-picking in his acoustic guitar has the gentleness of Nick Drake which is a tough thing to complain about. Whether or not you know anything about this guy, this tape would have to be an excellent place to start learning.
The music of Tennessee’s
Clay Cantrell is perfectly suited to usher in the cool days and
nights of orange and brown hues. Traditionally minded but with a fine ear
for atmospherics, Cantrell writes songs that haunt and linger. When
electricity is invoked, Cantrell’s tender leads weave through a solid, but
forgiving, wooden framework without losing a touch of the song’s down-home
warmth and nuance.
Clay Cantrell’s cassette The Tree Farmer is a unique blend of atmospheric folk and blues-tinged singer-songwriter compositions. While Clay has a relatively mysterious presence on the internet, Buffalo’s House of Alchemy label has shown him some deserved attention by putting out this gem of a cassette. With labelmates like Obscurer and Mama Baer, Cantrell is an odd fit for such a label renowned for specializing in stranger sounds. Cantrell’s ghostly ambiance, however, does share certain similarities with other artists that have been released by HOA.
The songs on the Memphis native’s cassette (none of which come titled) show an impressive musical range; some songs are fairly straight-forward folk rock (suggestive of The Decemberists or The National), others songs, like “Late Aster Girl”–which was posted to Soundcloud by House of Alchemy–show more ambient, heavy blues sections reminiscent of a melancholy Embryonic Journey with a little more of a metal influence. Another song “Cotton Wood,” which is posted to Cantrell’s Soundcloud page, is a classic ballad overlain with haunting vocals and a wonderfully resonant piano.
In general, the vocals are not so strong on this release, but they don’t necessarily have to be. On the folkier songs the voice is more prominent, while the mellower, experimental tracks feature odd melodies, hypnotic harmonies, and heavily distorted guitar. Although Cantrell is definitely a far better guitarist than a vocalist, his vocals work well with the music (which is true of a lot of artists with the same vocal style). It’s all in good taste; it symbolizes a movement. In music there needs to be a positive message that individuality and sincerity to the self are the most important things you need, and when artists bring off-key vocals to the table it brings a new dimension to their music, as numerous artists have shown over the past decade. Vocal qualities aside, Cantrell shines as a lyricist, which makes sense since he also writes poetry.
After a long day, this album and a beer would do perfectly. The calming tones of Cantrell’s Memphis-tinged voice combined with the completely mesmerizing distortion and reverb help to achieve a dreamlike effect when listening. -Chris Samide