Almost Home
(independent, 2012)

Possessed of a growing cult following, and deservedly so, the New York City-based Yarn releases Almost Home, its fourth CD. (I reviewed the previous one here on 28 August 2010.) The band has six members. Its repertoire consists of songs written (or occasionally co-written) by one member, acoustic guitarist Blake Christiana, who also handles the vocals.

Yarn doesn't sound quite like anybody or anything else. At moments Christiana's sturdy, melodic songs might be descendants of ones from the pens of 1960s Village folk-era singer-songwriters. At other times they seem as if an edgier iteration of the Los Angeles country-rock of the next decade. There is some bluegrass-inflected mandolin. There are a few rock and pop touches. But basically, Yarn is something like some things but no one thing in particular.

Whatever is going on at any particular juncture, it almost always makes for rewarding listening. The "almost" qualifier serves the point, not a hugely consequential one, that the 14th and final cut, "Fussin' & Fightin' (Singin' Jim Croce)," gives one the unmistakable impression of a toss-off.

It's hard not to like Yarn, though. While its sound draws in good part on rural musical styles, its concerns are urban and New York-focused. That's true even of an opening cut titled "Dirt Road." The theme, broadly speaking, is survival in the city. The narrator may be bruised, but he's tough enough to do what he must do, however unhappily, and he doesn't waste words. The songs are tight, taut narratives, and the upper lip is kept stiff. The narrator may acknowledge his suffering, but he doesn't whine about it. "I don't know about you," he sings laconically in "Liquor Love," "but I could use a drink."

Yarn is intelligent, distinctive and eminently listenable. This is music without extravagance or exaggeration. It's about as bluntly straightforward, albeit without sounding much like it, as country music was in its prime. I think that's serious and sufficient praise.

music review by
Jerome Clark

11 August 2012

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