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Quick Hits: Safir Nou / Matt Baumann

LiminalSafir Nou. Lisa and I have really enjoyed music from Italy this year, and Safir Nou provides another entry in that book. This quintet, led by composer Antonio Firinu, plays elegant and complex instrumental music that draws on post-rock, movie scores, Mediterranean sounds, and more. The results are engaging and adventurous: opener “Port X” begins as a strings-led elegy in with a Middle Eastern flair until a sudden, groove-heavy drum/bass/static breakdown interrupts the space. (“Escape” pulls the same trick, just as effectively.)

“Sahel” merges traditional jazz sounds with Middle Eastern drama. Standout “Arenas” evokes Devotchka with the subtle, rousing marriage of indie-pop melodies and aesthetics (chipper hand-claps!) with more traditional arrangements. Each of the 12 pieces here has different vibes and different charms. Those with a penchant for interesting instrumental work should definitely check out Liminal. Highly recommended.

The Ivory in the Narrows paints Matt Baumann‘s (aka Wolfcryer) troubadour folk over a big canvas of 12 songs. Baumann’s rough-edged tenor is the guiding light through these songs, as his skillful use of tone  and deft line delivery sell the lyrics admirably. “Little Badlands” is shows off both these skills, as he pulls the listener in with well-placed accents in and at the end of phrases. Follow-up “St. Anthony” has a powerful chorus that makes the most of Baumann’s voice, as the emotion just drips out of the words. I particularly love how he slings out the phrase “Sa-int ANNNNN-thon-eeeee.”

Topically and sonically, the album is a road-warrior logbook. Baumann’s lyrics ponder, take place on, and evoke the life of the road, from opener “Heading Out” to closer “The Last Stop.” (“Oncoming Train” is technically life on the rails, but still.) Baumann is at his best when he’s positioned on the road sonically as well: the iconic mostly-clean lead electric guitar tone and harmonica fit like a glove with his voice and lyrics. (Things get crunchy on “The Last Stop” to great effect, but Jeremy Smart’s work is mostly free of heavy distortion.) “Lonesome Ladders” is a tribute in Baumann’s style to the grandaddy of all troubadours: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. If you’re looking for a solid folk record, inquire within.