Califone Heron King Blues

Leaving no subtly to the title, Califone’s latest album does indeed have what seems to be a birdman on the cover. In contrast to the out-there concept, Heron King Blues takes the blues in the title to heart and although there is much sorrowful guitar picking and strumming and deep morose vocals, it is lifted by constant and surprising instrumentation. While at times sounding like Papa M and Will Oldham, there is enough beauty and inspiration to make Califone a strong, individual voice. "Trick Bird” bristles with invention with the shuffling lo-fi beats, banjo, guitar feedback, harmonies and varied percussion. The epic "Sawtooth Sung a Cheater’s Song” moves at its own pace, placing more value on atmosphere than payoff, and it works superbly. With a loose, improvisational feel along with mournful strings and hushed drums the song takes one on a walk through foggy forests and worn dirt paths. The only drawback comes with titular track, "Heron King Blues,” which seems more like an unstructured idea with guitar wanking than a musical statement. Unfortunately, it stands in stark contrast to the loose, yet purposeful beauty that dominates the rest of the album. Skip the last track and revel in the rest of Califone’s fever dream come to life. (Thrill Jockey)