If you feel like you got thrown in to the south’s grasslands and fields, that’s exactly where Mike & Cara threw you. On Black Ribbon of Death, Silver Thread of Life, you get a mix of bluegrass, alt-country and even a capella. This makes Mike Gangloff’s third release in a loosely connected series that’s spanned over the last two years. The sheer stylings of this may remind you of one Black Twig Pickers single I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and that’s because it’s Mike Gangloff’s main place of residence; you’re smart though, so you probably figured that out. Don’t mind the shameless plug of mine. Mike & Cara recorded this in rural Virginia and you’ll find they’ve captured something very American, yet dark. Just like the title and album cover, it’s a juxtaposition of the abyss that is death and the flowing river that is life. Check out a preview of Black Ribbon of Death, Silver Thread of Life by going through the EU’s purchase link below and see what you think of it. Cheers!


The Details

Mike and Cara Gangloff’s Black Ribbon of Death, Silver Thread of Life is the third in a series of loosely connected melodic investigations released by Mike Gangloff over the past two years. All three were recorded around the Gangloff home in rural Floyd County, Virginia, and were engineered by Joseph Dejarnette (Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bruce Greene, Curtis Eller). And all three feature the far-reaching improvisation familiar from Gangloff’s work with the old-time stringband Black Twig Pickers and the acoustic-drone outfit Pelt.

Taken together, they form a musical triptych. Poplar Hollow (Mike on banjo and fiddle, with Cara joining on sruti box) reflects the social fiddle traditions of that part of Virginia, exuberant kick-ups that might be played at a barn-dance or at the country store. Melodies for a Savage Fix (recorded in an all-nighter with guitarist Steve Gunn, and featuring a host of non-Virginian instruments like gongs, tanpura and singing bowls) are the late-night ramblings and conversations that take place well after the dance is over, with dawn drawing nigh. Black Ribbon is an album from the day after, when the cares of the world have again settled in.

But though there is woven throughout this album a pattern of fear, loss and regret, it is held together by the warp of tunes and songs marked by joy and hope. The foreboding of Charlie Patton’s “O Death”—sung unaccompanied, in tones caught between resignation and jubilation—is followed by “Rocking in a Weary Land”, where the whirling of hurdy gurdy and the drone of fiddle rise to transcendent heights. The cautionary words of the Carter Family’s “Righten That Wrong” (“If you do wrong today, the price you must pay”), the regret of the 18th-century Shape Note hymn “David’s Lamentation” (“Oh my son! Would to God I had died/For thee”), and the apocalyptic visions of “Black Ribbon I, II and III” are offset by expansive, joyful fiddle-and-sruti tunes like “Mulberry Raider” and “West India.” John Fahey, in his notes to the American Primitive collection, posited that the Shape Note songs, spirituals and other religious music of the South were descendants of ecstatic religious practices stretching far back through the mists of Time, that “underneath it all [one can] hear pan pipes tooting and a cloven hoof beating time”: on Black Ribbon, ecstasy can be found in even the darkest of moments, and the silver thread of life shines throughout. - Adam Frost

Price $15

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