uiet, hushed nights are nearly the only atmosphere in which Born Heller can be enjoyed. Maybe lazy weekend afternoons, too. But that’s really no trouble. Music in the digital age is even more utilitarian that it used to be. The more important question to be answered is where Born Heller ranks among albums of the same ilk. Is it the best quiet night / lazy afternoon album of Appalachian folk released this year? To that question, I’d answer yes.
Born Heller is the duo of Josephine Foster and Jason Ajemian. The two nearly only use the elements of guitar and voice to create their music, which is predictably simple folk music. There are few frills here, only the power of historic form and Foster’s voice to carry the proceedings. That voice, which evokes the archetypical folk singer of the modern era, Shirley Collins, is the star of the show amid Ajemian’s bare guitar playing. Her voice transforms throughout the album, moving from the homage-like “No More Lamps in the Morning” to the nearly playful lilt of “I Am A Guest In Here”. Emotions run the usual gambit of love and loss, but they’re sufficiently covered in metaphor and conceit, most often taking the guise of flowers and other elements of the natural world.
Ajemian’s guitar playing is nakedly optimistic in its ability to engender more meaning to each note than it actually has. He’s heard on “Big Sky #4” doing this expertly. It winds its way through dissonant and melodic sections that somehow connect with one another, despite hardly sharing common cause or roots. The playing is sometimes so spare that it seems like Ajemian has to give up a nickel for every note that escapes his guitar. Which isn’t a bad thing. Foster’s angelic voice is given more than enough room to breathe, Ajemian works all the harder and the whole thing is infused with a sense of depth that might not be present otherwise. But, in the end, with albums that display such ease with nakedness, it all depends on the production. Luckily, each moment comes out crystal-clear with an enormous sense of depth given to the recording. It sounds like they’re recording in the loneliest room in the world.
Which is obviously the point. Much like George’s The Magic Lantern, Born Heller have created that rare sort of record: an unpretentious document that sounds as if it was recorded in the 1960s on an English countryside. A perfect soundtrack to dark and quiet nights or lazy weekend afternoons perhaps.
Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl
Reviewed on: 2004-12-15