Ty Maxon‘s music is beautiful. It was gorgeous in 2009’s Furthest From the Tree, and it’s still so in this year’s Calling of the Crows. Maxon plays intricate acoustic tunes that can be categorized as folk, but their appeal transcends those looking for rustic purity of sound. Furthest had a knowing, distanced, Nick Drake-esque whimsy to it; Calling has a much more intimate, Damien Jurado-esque vibe. The wink is gone, replaced with a wry smile.
This lends the album a mellow, gentle feel. No track here is particularly fast, nor is any one track given inordinate attention. These tracks are all on equal footing, each taking their place in the album and contributing. Some may say that the cascading notes and easy-going tempos don’t change enough from tune to tune, but I like the consistency here. The album comes together to be a unified musical statement, and that’s rare in this day and age. Harmonica, drums and more make occasional appearances, but generally this is the province of Maxon’s voice and guitar. Both don’t get too loud or intense, and instead unveil depth and beauty.
If you’re into stately, gently emotive folk, you’ll be all over this. A perfect lazy porch, gentle rain, hammocking Sunday in the fall would definitely include Calling of the Crows.
I love folk music. I’ll admit that folk singers traditionally don’t have the most stellar voices, but they can often do things with acoustic guitars that simply blow my mind. Ty Maxon fits both of those categories. No one’s going to be hailing him as the next Frank Sinatra, but his guitar chops and songwriting skills vault him high above any potshots that can be taken at his voice.
Maxon sets up shop by playing “New Magic.” This is a brilliant move; it’s one of the best tracks on the album. It’s an acoustic-only song, as all the songs on this album are. The intricate fingerpicking makes it sound like he has several extra hands creating the song. “New Magic” makes a single guitar sound like an orchestra, complete with rhythmic and melodic ornamentation. In addition to pure guitar skill, he deftly moves the song through several sections without ever really giving in to verse/chorus/verse. The song unfolds unexpectedly but pleasantly; there are no sudden jerks or uncomfortable moves. The whole thing flows. The song gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it.
As he moves into the rest of the album, he displays that the best parts of “New Magic” were not anomalies. It’s the way he rolls. The intricate fingerpicking, high-tenor warble, clever songwriting and smooth presentation continue throughout the album. “Free (From Time to Time)” has a more traditional chord structure, but even that is subject to fingerpicking interludes. It’s rare that he uses full chords, and even rarer that he uses traditional verse/chorus/verse stucture. In short, there’s nothing derivative here; even the most basic of the time-tested folk ideas (you know, the ones that anyone can get away with in the name of folk tradition) have been spun, twisted, and re-worked.
The album unfolds its many joys much too quickly, depositing the listener at “So They Say” in just under a half-hour. But it’s at “So They Say” that Maxon releases the best song in the collection. He has learned the art of song order: hook ’em early and leave ’em wanting more. “So They Say” has the best vocal melody in the collection, as it is the only one which could be counted as “catchy.” The song is swift; the fingerpicking is incredible. It is the piece de resistance on the album. And, in a move that I just couldn’t believe, the song fades out as opposed to ending. Talk about memorable exits.
The lyrics aren’t exactly memorable, and that could be improved. Similarly, the vocal lines are not always engaging. Sometimes they even detract from the guitar playing. But, as his songs have many parts, this ill is never around long. That’s part of his clever genius.
This folk album is one of the best I’ve heard all year. Fans of Jose Gonzalez, Nick Drake, and/or Bob Dylan will find much to admire and enjoy here. Astonishing guitar work and clever songwriting are the hallmarks of Ty Maxon’s incredible Furthest From the Tree.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.