Cynic’s New Year” professes an ending but welcomes Horse Feathers’ fans with the promise of something new. To be sure, old friends return. Wrapped around the warmth of Justin Ringle’s vocals and sparkling guitar, fiddles dance in the spaces between, above the smoky banjo and woven through the foundation of the lower strings. The lyrics traverse familiar themes from natural disaster to the deeply personal, each through Justin Ringle’s uniquely American linguistic lens. New vistas, new stories, are explored with deep insight and fresh intimacy, always with an abiding respect and affection. The universe rises to threaten, inspire and sometimes punish, but always to teach a valuable lesson. Souls, lost and found, embark on thoughtful emotional journeys.
The single, “Fit against the Country”, renders a nation where working men and women shoulder their careworn lives with neither apology nor surrender. These are words that need to be held close, owing their poignance as much to the savor of their pure sound as to their meaning. “Where I’ll Be”, another single from this brilliant collection, has an infectious rhythmic cadence that marks it as one of the great train songs, and a compelling sentiment that belies the gray landscape it travels.
Justin’s melodic wizardry transcends without discarding the group’s post-folk harmonic vernacular. The skillful instrumental arrangements remain true to their acoustic roots but bring some surprising new voices to the circle. Horn, woodwind and brass appear and fade, lending broader timbral texture to the sonic canvas. There is a light hand on the reins of this music. By turns sweet or playful, it can unexpectedly rise to a swelling muscularity that never pushes, but steadfastly lifts the spirit.
Again joining Justin is instrumental coconspirator, Nathan Crockett, accompanied by a gathering of gifted Northwest musicians including Dustin Dybvig, Victor Nash, Justin Power, Catherine Odell, Jedadiah Bernards, Cory Goldman, Jenn Rawling, Adam Thompson, Scott Magee, Brandon Johnson, and sound engineer Skyler Norwood.
“Cynics New Year” is anything but cynical, but does not fail to deliver something beautiful and new. It navigates a thoughtful, thought-provoking expedition from the wide sky and rolling ocean to the most private corners of the human heart. I hope this “Year” is only one of many, many more to come.