Southern Indiana singer-songwriter Elephant Micah aka Joseph O’Connell releases his 15th album on LP and CD via Western Vinyl. It’s a typically assured effort from the Americana veteran, utilising minimal instrumentation and O’Connell’s smoothly engaging voice to deliver a compelling form of countrified magic realism. Backing vocals are provided by none other than Will Oldham, which is a recommendation in itself, surely? Of course it is.
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With the sorrow of Jason Molina and the resilience of Will Oldham in his voice -- as well the next-gen acoustic rock dramatics of Ben Howard in the arrangements department -- Joseph O’Connell has been able to carve out an excellent career as a folk all-rounder, one in which he’s toyed with different conventions to produce records of very general beauty. Where In Our Woods isn’t a knockout, but how often do you get a really fucking proficient singer-songwriter record? O’Connell is a striking traditionalist, a fine picker and a very compelling sad boy. His fifteenth work as Elephant Micah is proof enough.
On Where In Our Woods, O’Connell contently delivers some of his least accessible work, crafting a languishing and slow-moving record of strums and picks that moves at the pace of early Songs: Ohia. Despite the promise of those fluttering drumbeats in “By the Canal”, this record becomes dour and intricately measured, with “Slow Time Vultures” grinding to a total halt for a good seven minutes; it’s a gorgeous, reflective centrepiece in which O’Connell resists his verbose lyrical inclinations and merely allows his song to take control, his vocals only imposed when he can think of something worth saying.
O'Connell is attracted to calamity, and so there’s still a lot of urgency to Where In Our Woods, even in these moments; “Demise Of The Bible Birds” is a brief moment of respite, offering a folk rock version of the end times in which mandolins bristle, drums shimmer and bass broods. The scene is most vivid when O’Connell steps back and lets the instrumentation do its work; he is a fine storyteller, but there’s an uncanny atmosphere to Where In The Woods, one where the words never quite matter as much as the flourishes. “Monarch Gardeners” mixes picking straight out of an early Smog record and a droning accordion to conjure up a whole world behind O’Connell: fields and fields of land, extending into the horizon forever. Few folk artists can do so much with so little, but O’Connell has been doing this for a while now.
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- Where In Our Woods by Elephant Micah
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