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Faun Fables 

Mother Twilight (Earthlight)

Wednesday, Jul 4 2001
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Hailing from the sideshow circus scene in Manhattan, where she dabbled in cabaret-style skits and folk-singer ventures in the '90s, vocalist/guitarist Dawn McCarthy moved to the Bay Area three years ago to pursue "a fairy-tale romance" with Nils Frykdahl (multi-instrumentalist frontman for East Bay bands Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Charming Hostess, and the dearly departed Idiot Flesh). Now, under the auspices of Faun Fables, McCarthy and Frykdahl offer one of the most stunning discs of the year: Mother Twilight, a collection of songs inspired by McCarthy's 1997 solo trek through Europe.

The album resounds with clear, cool numbers that seem to rove wondrously through the mountain pines at dusk. On the opening track, "Begin," McCarthy transforms a medieval Norwegian melody -- which pitches to and fro on a sea of waltzing guitar rhythms -- into a haunting ode to the journeywoman's ambivalent spirit: "The traveler is vulnerable and charmed/ A distinct aloneness/ A sense of doom visits me/ But my heart is good." Mapping the soul's craggy interior is a McCarthy specialty. On the forward-pushing rocker "Catch Me," she extols in ringing falsetto and head-banging rhythm the mysteries of connection and obsession, the overpowering desire to entrance and tantalize: "The people told me I was mad ... Don't let the darkness keep you from knowing me/ Catch me, catch me/ Catch if you can."

The tunes of Faun Fables also echo the mischievous mythos of the group's namesake: reed-playing Pan, the Greek god of forest and meadow, a Dionysian reveler with a lusty streak of abandon. Themes of possession -- wanting to possess and be possessed -- run rampant. On the ballad "Traveller Returning," the singer pleads, "Is it enough to bow before you/ And weep/ To dedicate myself to you/ Returned?" She wraps her voice around the lyrics with a soulful longing both melancholic and full of hope. A finger-plucked six-string lays down a solitary harmonic and rhythmic foundation, which Frykdahl ornaments lightly with a wistful melody on the recorder.

The simplicity of Faun Fables' music is deceptive; it acts as a modest backdrop for the endlessly complex worlds embodied in McCarthy's every vocalization. This depth is brought into striking relief on the a cappella number "Beautiful Blade," where McCarthy and Frykdahl multitrack their voices into undulating chants, evoking an eerie hymnlike ambience that falls somewhere between the hypnotism of the Bulgarian Women's Choir, Led Zeppelin's near-mythic mysticism, and an operatic netherworld. McCarthy's ethereal falsetto draws listeners like moths to seraphic light -- a dangerous but irresistible lure.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni

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