Cancellieri – Closet Songs: A Collection of Demos and Covers
Cancellieri is Ryan Hutchens’ Post-Echo-signed labour of love. Grounded in indie folk, its sound has been influenced by extensive touring and a focus on honest musicality. While on a US coast-to-coast tour, which finishes in August, Cancellieri released, as a free download and 10” vinyl, Closet Songs. It aims to recreate the experience of an intimate live performance and act as a side dish to Welcome to Mount Pleasant, released in April. Hutchens’ voice and guitar, with lo-fi recording and some use of echo, form the core of the album, with new material and covers of artists like the Avett Brothers and Coldplay. 14 tracks long, the album sounds exactly like its title suggests: a backlog of demos and covers released together as a collection.
In this lies its strength. Closet Songs successfully reflects both the ethic of Cancellieri as a band, and its aims in putting the album together. It is simple, honest and heartfelt throughout. Hutchens’ voice lies somewhere between Passenger and Bon Iver; at times – such as on “Dreams be Dreams” – he almost whispers, at others he utilises slight breathiness or croakiness to add a personal edge. On every track, the guitar picking style is skilful but delicate and not overcomplicated. The construction of the songs, too, is in accordance with the album’s aims. On the opening track, “Fortunate Peace”, the use of slight echo and the element of duet are simple additions which lend a pleasing cadence to the tune. The harmonica, particularly on “Zalo”, brings to mind the stylistic influence of folk and mostly works well in the arrangements where it’s used. “Blue Demo” works really well as a short, instrumental interlude. The straightforwardness of style coupled with its personal nature help get across the atmosphere of a live show at a small venue. Hutchens said of Cancellieri, “It’s the family name. The music was born from street performance and playing for family, and it’s grown into a way to survive”. On Closet Songs, this is inherent in the atmosphere; it is a quiet family performance, an intimate gig.
On original songs, Hutchens showcases good song-writing, such as on “The Frame” which opens with
“Oh my brother I have sinned.
There’s blood on my hands again”
But he also has a skill in bringing to life others’ songwriting.
“Why did you come
If you can’t stay for ever?”
he asks, almost innocently, at the beginning of his cover of Langhorne Slim’s “I Love You But Goodbye”. However, his covers play a slightly different role than other artists’. They are not reinterpreted or adapted significantly for his sound but, instead, give the impression that they are more tributes than covers. This works with the live atmosphere of the album, as if he is taking requests or simply deciding to play his favourite songs. Perhaps one major exception is the final song, “Mama’s Eyes”, which turns a country-sounding number from Justin Townes Earle into a fitting farewell to the album through the lo-fi distortion of Hutchens’ voice, like you’re hearing the final song of a great concert from far off.
Where the album is most interesting, is at its most dream-like. “Delicate Leave”’s lo-fi guitar (louder in the mix than usual) coupled with the interweaved harmony of long-sustained vocals gives an intangible, choral feeling which is quite effective. “Western States” – a song that, for the most part is familiarly straightforward, but with the return of the harmonica (perhaps one time too many) – is redeemed by this subtle humming that comes near the end, fading in and out like half-heard echoes in a church. A lot of the songs have some form of this dreaminess, though it’s a pity there isn’t more of it to enjoy.
Closet Songs is a solid album, all the songs are pleasant and in places it becomes quite interesting, but just as its strength comes from its straightforward, live-like nature, its faults do too. Partly because it is a collection of informal tracks more than an album crafted to be a coherent listen, and partly because it is difficult to capture the charisma of a real live performance, the album drags a bit and songs can blur into each-other with their similar simplicity. If you’re a fan of Cancellieri or indie folk, this is a good one to check out, especially hand-in-hand with Welcome to Mount Pleasant, and, as music in the background, it can really set a calm, pleasing mood, but, if you’re not that into indie folk, this probably won’t change that.
WORDKRAPHT Rating: 3 Stars
Album Name: Closet Songs: A Collection of Demos and Covers
Date Released: July, 2014
Genre: Indie Folk
Location: Columbia, SC
Band Members: Ryan Hutchens
Record Label: Post-Echo