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Carl Hauck's gentle folk builds on the past with great success

Carl Hauck has spent his last few releases searching for an identity. He was right at the cusp of one with Counter Intelligence, and his subsequent release Windjammer finally pushed him over the top. Carl Hauck’s lush, calm, finger-picked folk rides on gently thoughtful lyrics and understated yet rich vocal melodies to create an expansive experience inside an intimate mood. Hold up while I unpack all that mumbo jumbo.

Opening track “Martial Riesling” is the best song I’ve heard yet from Hauck, building on the strengths of his “To Coast” track that he contributed to On Joyful Wings’ latest comp. He starts the song off with a gentle guitar melody, which he quickly follows up with calm but rapid lyrics. Hauck’s not in a hurry, but he’s got a lot to say; that idiom follows through the album. In previous albums, his rapid delivery made understanding difficult. That doesn’t happen here. He’s letting listeners in to his thoughts much more, not shrouding them in cryptic words or speedy delivery.

His sound takes a turn for the expansive when he brings horns in for accent toward the end of the song. They aren’t particularly brassy or blaring; they, like the rest of the album’s parts, gently make their case before fading off. It alerts the listener to keep ears out for the stuff that’s going to be happening on the album. The same was true with previous releases, but the sounds didn’t fit in his songs as cohesively. Now the pieces gel perfectly, as gentle orchestration becomes a staple of the album’s sound.

The circumstances in which Hauck wrote the album also help the mood. Windjammer is the name of the street Hauck grew up on; it’s the same street he currently lives on, where he wrote the album. The whole album has a quiet awe about it, and features repetition of vocal and guitar melodies heavily. The repetition serves as a model of the feelings running through his experience (“whoa, I’ve lived here before”), as well as a showcase of his excellent melodic abilities.

In addition to having wonderful songs throughout, this album is a cohesive experience. It is best listened to in order, without distraction from the liner notes, lyric transcription or anything else. From tip to tail, it evokes a consistent feeling that feeling washes over the listener. It put me in a nostalgic state, especially by the time “Rooster” appeared at track 7. It’s a rare album that sustains a single consistent mood without getting monotonous, so Windjammer is definitely worth praising on that front.

Carl Hauck’s latest release builds on his strengths and drops out old weaknesses, which is about all you can ask for in a developing artist. The songs are emotive and powerful without being forceful, and beautiful without being cloying. Windjammer is one of the best acoustic releases of the year, as it will continue to reveal treasures as one listens repeatedly.