Click to hear: “Flaking the Hands”
Last winter, Chriss Sutherland released his solo debut, Me in a “Field” — a fine collection of unadorned, acoustic songs recorded between 2005 and 2007 with the help of various collaborators. That album was a distinct departure from his releases with the sprawling, experimental collective Cerberus Shoal, leaning more toward the approach of Cerberus’ new, unplugged incarnation, the alt-folky Fire on Fire.
On Worried Love, the members of Fire on Fire — Colleen Kinsella, Tom Kovacevic, Micah Blue Smaldone, and Caleb Mulkerin — and others join Sutherland to create a denser and more far-reaching record. The musicians do well within these more traditional song structures. The sound is wise and seasoned. Over the course of 10 tracks, Worried Love covers a lot of territory, flowing in and out of classic rock, flamenco, country and folk styles. Yet, as a whole, the songs cohere to a clean, pastoral sound.
Kinsella’s vocals, which grace six songs, are a vital addition. Her and Sutherland’s voices complement each other beautifully. They’ve been singing together for years, but the combination has never sounded as sweet as the harmonies here.
The pair shines brightly on the album’s fast-strummed introduction, “Flaking the Hands.” Sutherland sings a spirited sermon on the complexities and struggles of life. Kinsella joins him for the oddly hopeful chorus: “You don’t have to worry anymore / This whole world’s coming through your front door.”
The opener transitions perfectly into the gorgeous “What Are We Gonna Do Now?,” a song that sounds as if it could have been released decades ago. Sutherland croons like Charlie Rich over a down-tempo drum beat and Kovacevic’s melodious piano. Peapod Recordings’ Ron Harrity adds a modest electric-guitar solo. The song peaks twice with the desperate refrain, “Please put out your light in the night / Just let me know I’m not forgotten.”
Some of Worried Love’s most exciting moments are the lush flamenco tunes “El Tiempo” and “Volando Voy,” the latter popularized by the late, great flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla. Sutherland sings these with a hoarse, wailing tone similar to Camarón’s and that of the Gipsy Kings’ Nicolas Reyes over rich textures of palmas and other percussion (courtesy of Grupo Esperanza’s Dylan Blanchard), and electric and acoustic guitars.
The album’s flow drags a bit with the tired melody in “My Mind Blues III,” but picks up with a return to the full-band arrangement on “Without Much Time.” It closes with “Hey Justice,” a nearly 10-minute acoustic narrative in the manner of Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Low Lands.” Sutherland sings over a steady concoction of guitar, banjo and accordion. At the end, he repeats, “Dare me, push me, save me,” over and over, as a chorus swells behind him.
Sutherland is clearly pushing himself to new heights of musical accomplishment with this release. It’s exciting to contemplate how high he can climb in years to come.
— Tyler Jackson
Chriss Sutherland plays a CD release show on Fri., March 20, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Brown Bird and Christopher Teret open. Tix: $8 (18+). 828-5600. space538.org. For more on Sutherland, visit myspace.com/chrisssutherland.