I am afraid that my meager reviewing skills are not up to the task of writing about the Tin Hat Trio’s album, Book of Silk. I generally write on matters of rock and roll, and feel that to apply my opinions to this particular brand of music is to do it injustice. I will, however, endeavor to do my best by the album.
The title Book of Silk comes from a Chinese manuscript containing the first definitive comet atlas. It documents the calamitous event that corresponded with each comet’s appearance. The Tin Hat Trio is comprised of Rob Burger (accordion, prepared and toy piano, celeste, and harmonica), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, viola, trumpet violin, voice) and Mark Orton (guitar, dobro, and banjo), who are joined by Zeena Parkins on harp and Bryan Smith on tuba. This, the band’s fourth album, is hard to categorize. It is classical with touches of jazz, folk, and an almost Eastern European sound, which combine to form something entirely new and different.
Several of the tracks with their eerie combination of violin, piano, and accordion would be very well suited to a Masterpiece Theater mystery. If that sounds likes an insult, then you should understand my love of British mysteries set in the early twentieth century. I think Miss Marple is totally hot. Tracks like “The Longest Night” and “The Clandestine Adventures of Ms. Merz” create a sense of tension and anxiety while managing to remain low key.
I would swear that the “March of the Smallest Feet” has a theramin in it, but I do not see one listed in the liner notes. This will just serve to prove my woeful ignorance. The high-pitched sound of this seraphim-sounding instrument (a dobro perhaps?) adds a ghostlike quality to the song. The song “Things That Might Have Been” shares this quality, but uses piano with the discordant vibration of harp strings.
Meanwhile, “Osborne Avenue” and “Same Shirt Different Day” have a light, whimsical sound to them. The piano plays jauntily with a violin, banjo and tuba. These songs are a good example of how this trio, joined by Zeena and Bryan, manage to make a sound much larger and orchestral than one would think possible from such a small group.
The last song, “Empire of Light,” is my favorite. It has the only vocals on this otherwise instrumental album. Carla Kihlstedt has a sweet and lovely voice. The song, like the rest of the album, defies classification. It makes me feel as if I am sitting in a parlor during the 1920’s, courting a lovely young debutante. You’ll have to listen for yourself to see if that makes any sense.