On Weeping Cherry, in a voice both honeyed and gritty, Ambrosia Parsley delivers songs rich in omen and evocation, lyrics that hint at location, situation and period ambience but that are curiously begrudging with whole contexts and narrative anchors. It’s an effective style, if you can pull it off as artfully as Tom Waits or Parsley do (or her former Shivaree bandmate and Hudson Valley bandleader Duke McVinnie): that feeling of narrativity sans explicit, paraphrasable narratives; half-submerged myths and vapor stories that belong to a time and a place that is not quite here-and-now but not quite history, either.
There’s an undeniable thematic coherence across Weeping Cherry. Song to song, bad things lurk in the closets and under the beds: memories, rumors, sins and the chance, at least, of actual bogeymen. There has, it is clear, been some violence, some scandal and some death, but we’re not speaking of it, else houses and empires collapse. The album is full of secrets – poorly kept, but secrets nonetheless.
Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez’s production and arrangements could not be more tuned into the unmoored ambiguities of Parsley’s songs. The Elegant Too, as they are known when they work together, play in dogma-free, non-binding ways with retro and with reference, crafting a vibe of naturalistic, moody noir pop with perturbed electro undercurrents: an 808 handclap here, a sample-and-hold noise arpeggio there. Never do the Elegant Too descend fully into period reconstruction; but still that sense of “another period” prevails, just as ominous and unspecified as in the lyrics.
In “The Other Side,” a gritty pop tune with a graceful melodic lift, Parsley mourns the loss of former cohorts (bandmates?), one to soul-trade fame, another to addiction and death. “Skin and Bones” is a louche, stylized and menacing cabaret-rocker punctuated by Maxwell’s dissonant school-of-Ribot guitarwork. For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that the wispy acoustic title track concerns a queen having an affair with a jester and then hushing it up, though the jester may have to die anyway. But my evidence is pretty thin, I admit.
“Only Just Fine” typifies the prevailing aesthetic of Weeping Cherry: an elegant retro-pop piece with a cheese-Latin groove, zesty string flourishes and tremolo guitars right out of ‘60s high-pop arrangement. But there is nothing remotely purist or Daptone about this retro. It is a profoundly warped, underwater retro, more alienating than comfortably familiar.
Weeping Cherry’s extraordinary single-effect coherence belies its multi-year, bumpy-ride birth story, a testament to the strict conceptual focus of its song set and its connected, sympathetic production. Whether it is a new release or whether it has been out for a while is a subject of some confusion, but there is no confusion about whether it is an exceptional-if-elusive record – one that obscures your coordinates and rewards your attention lavishly.
Parsley & Co. celebrate the US release of Weeping Cherry at the Old Glenford Church Studio on Friday, May 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12 in advance, $15 at the door, and are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1438077. The Old Glenford Church is located at 210 Old Route 28 in Glenford.
Ambrosia Parsley, Weeping Cherry release show, Friday, May 15, 8 p.m., $12/$15, Old Glenford Church Studio, 210 Old Route 28, Glenford.