Tuesday, August 18, 2009

4 recent reviews of "Human Voices"

Reviews are always interesting because each reviewer has unique preferences, unique frames of reference, and unique backgrounds to bring to the listening.
Some gravitate towards the songs and lyrics, some the instrumentals, some the core atmosphere and feeling of the album.

Here are 4 recent reviews of Human Voices

Listen Now
Human Voices
The Tree People

by Fran├žois Couture, Allmusic

The discreet Oregon band the Tree People released their second album, Human Voices, as a cassette, in 1984. A minor folk gem, it remained unavailable on CD until 2009. This album contains peculiar underground folk songs and acoustic guitar-and-flute instrumentals. The writing is delicate, careful, almost fragile at times, and features occasional dissonances and complex chords that keep the emotional charge in the murky waters of melancholia, indecision, and disappointment. There is a strong influence from Pearls Before Swine and the kind of American freak folk that happened outside of the major urban centers and didn't get much exposure (or get recorded) back in the day. With hindsight, one could easily put the Tree People near the roots of the tree whose branches would give birth to a flurry of groups usually lumped together (rightfully or not) under the label "New Weird Underground." That said, this trio is closer to Simon & Garfunkel than bands like In Gowan Ring or Jackie-O Motherfucker would ever get. However, in the vocal delivery and use of recorder, one could hear a precursor of In Gowan Ring ("Opus II" falls somewhere between that band and one of Steve Hackett's instrumental tunes). Guitarist and main composer Stephen Cohen has a pleasant understated voice, with something of a childlike tone in the phrasing, as if he was pouting. The songs "Grandfather" and "Thomas" sport exquisite melodies supporting strong lyrical content, and "If That's Entertainment" is a surprising song/tirade about what the people want and what the artist is willing to give them. On the instrumentals front, the highlights are "Things Fall Apart" and "Opus II," two tracks that could appeal to a wide range of people, if they were given exposure. Human Voices is not a life-changing record, but it is definitely above average, has a timeless quality (already obvious upon its release in 1984 -- rarely has an album from that year sounded so un-mid-'80s), and it sweats honesty through every pore. Recommended.

The Tree People : Human Voices (US,1984,re.2009, Guerssen Records).

Gerald Van Het, www.psychedelicfolk.com

Hearing the second release of The Tree People I can hardly believe how this never had an LP version or CD/LP reissue before. Reminding me slightly of Ptarmigan with its flute improvisations and endless shoreline waves of skimming fingerpickings in between some very strong songs I understand how Tree People became one of Johan’s (Tiliqua records) favourite bands. By some reasons the reissue now was released in Spain instead of in Japan, reaching hopefully a wider public. The two songs I meant that pop out very well in between the improvisations or drowned in its atmosphere songs are “Thomas” and “If That’s entertainment”, two very conscious songs which I think beg to be covered some day, for they will remain actual and recognisable, as strong statements. The opener, “Human voices” is the only track which has a triple voice arrangement, of an almost religious introduction. The song “Grandfather” is moving too, about someone who passed away and leaves their traces of being there amongst his family members. This song is drawn into the atmosphere, with some dreamy sadness. A very strong album, that should be regarded as a classic for the genre.

Homepage Stephen Cohen : http://home.earthlink.net/~threehandstephen/ & http://www.myspace.com/threehandstephen

Foxy Digitalis website:

The Tree People "Human Voices"

This is a welcome 25th anniversary reissue of this Oregon trio’s rare, cassette-only sophomore effort. Dreamy, mellow folk tunes paved the way for the current new folk movement and unique touches like the echoed vocals on “Grandfather” and the tinkling bells on “Rain, Rain” make this something special. Jeff Stier’s flute and recorder establishes a warm, floating vibe throughout the mostly instrumental album, and the liner notes from main composer Stephen Cohen are both historical and informative. The Spanish air to Cohen’s guitar on the lengthy “Things Fall Apart” is both hesitant and inviting, and draws the listener in to Stier’s recorder/flute flourishes, transporting the listener to an otherworldly plane, part gypsy dance, part ominous bullfight. (Note: The bonus track, “Sketches,” also benefits from this earthy, European vibe and is generously dedicated to the band’s part-time drummer, Denis Mochary, who played on it and several other tracks and who passed away in Japan several years ago.)

“Thomas” is a live favorite that’s part Simon & Garfunkle, part Peter, Paul & Mary and 100% fun – the harmonies are particularly well-arranged, weaving wonderfully around Stier’s recorders. This is one for those rainy day dreamaways where you find your mind wandering off to lonely strolls through the park, or navel gazing under the old apple tree out back. And if you can’t get up and do the jolly jig to “Dance,” then your get up and go has got up and gone and it’s time to return to your armchair traveling…back to the kinder, gentler times of 1984 to climb up and build a tree house to hang out with The Tree People and mellow out to “Human Voices.”
Jeff Penczak (11 August, 2009)

The review below is definitely entertaining and positive despite Casey's allergic reaction to flutes. One correction- the words to the song Human Voices are:

in the morning when you're still sleeping

when you have those crazy nightmares

I swear I hear, within the bird song

human voices joining along in a laughing song

(so that's why people print out the words on albums! I guess we will print the words on the new album when it is ready!)

The Tree People Human Voices


BY CASEY JARMAN, Willamette Week
[July 8th, 2009]

[FLUTE FOXES] Within the first 30 seconds of the Tree People’s reissued sophomore album, Human Voices, the psych-folk trio tests an aughties listener’s threshold for both the weird and the tender: “In the morning when you’re still sleeping/ When you have those crazy nightmares/ I swear I’m here within the birdsong/ Human voices joining along in our loving song.” These trippy lines are beautifully delivered—spooky three-part harmonies paired with unpredictable chord and tempo changes rattling out from a finger-picked guitar. But when the flute swoops in like an excitable raven, cynicism and years of anti-Renaissance Fair conditioning creep into one’s opinion.

About half of Human Voices is instrumental, with Stephen Cohen’s voice and acoustic guitar canoodling with Jeff Stier’s expertly played flutes and organic percussion. And while the wordless compositions—anchored by Stephen’s brother Jeremy on bass—are coolly melodic, it’s a side of the recently rebuilt trio that is going to be tough for modern audiences to contextualize. Oregon was a gentler place in 1984, it would seem. Still, the Tree People’s lyrically driven songs are both accessible and modern. The haunting “Grandfather” evokes Lou Reed more than Donovan; disc highlight “Thomas” is a Simon and Garfunkel-esque story song, and the earnest “That’s Entertainment” is both relatable and thrillingly told.

Picking up a Human Voices isn’t quite like discovering Nick Drake or John Fahey—musical spirits who seem more natural now than they ever did when they were in their prime songwriting years. Instead, one has to meet Treepeople halfway between now and then. But Human Voices, like the trio’s fascinating 1979 self-titled debut, provides another excellent reason to do so.

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