Pigeonholing Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands‘ new disc, Muses and Bones, is tough. Bright’s theatrical voice and reedy accordion lead the way for a bizarre mélange of styles including polka, gypsy folk, old French parlor songs, cabaret, and even a touch of Latin flair. The entire album is fueled by the reedy sound of accordions from another era. It’s easy to imagine Bright at the turn of the twentieth century, in a smoky cabaret full of deviants, or entertaining the crowds on a Coney Island sideshow.
The music here is incredibly theatrical: Bright’s voice is heavily influenced by musical theater in her clear enunciation and melodramatic delivery. It can become difficult not to hear her as a novelty. She might have a certain niche appeal, and her ethereal, intense vocal quality is enough to carry the album for any listener. Her old-time storytelling vibe is similar to the weirder songs of The Decemberists, yet that famous group manages to walk the delicate line between performance art and pop/rock, while Bright falls squarely on the former side.
For what it is, though, it’s incredibly good. On the slow ballad “Today”, Bright infuses her voice with musical theater drama, floating it alongside trumpeter Jeremy Denman’s Latin jazz lines. “In December” begins slowly, but then opens up into a frenzy of drums with Bright soaring along in her highest register.
Opening track “Especially Your Mother” is an accordion-driven foot-stomper, with a heavy bass and drum beat, while the changing tempos of “Drowned Out” are like a crazed polka/circus sideshow lovechild. The vocal lines all have a non-specific exotic flavor, with lots of minor Eastern European or Latin American melodies, which isn’t surprising since Bright studied ethnomusicology in college. Or maybe it’s just those accordions and trumpets.
Essential Tracks: “Especially Your Mother”, “Adungu”, “Today”, “In December”, “Littlematch Girl”