Rusticity sieved through a cheesecloth of variant modern deconstructionism —and don't infer that fool Foucault (or Derrida, for that matter) into the equation—might best encapsulate this disc of lazy dusky refrains from a wheatbelt rimmed by purpling mountains and gathering stormclouds. Phil Aaberg's Out of the Frame hit this note years ago, as had Will Ackerman, playing Oregon (the group, not the state) against a more rooted Americana shot through with Impressionism and various Romantic leanings. Reductionism is inherent in such applications because it plays, as we see here, so beautifully with air and space. Thus, Tea with Leo equally features Breadfoot on dobro and banjo and Anna Phoebe on violin and Violectra, both adding in percussion (including piano, a percussive instrument) before gathering producer Leo Abrahams in for more of the latter, capped by a small spot of organ work.
This is indeed music to sip chamomile tea by, happy the day's chores are done, grateful a couple of hours can be grabbed for thought while the sun westers in a sky drawing curtains with settling rays and layering mists. Phoebe's as much the star as Breadfoot, with an agile set of strings and a lyrical lilt, expanding each cut's borders (seven of 'em, totaling a rather disappointing set of little more than a half-hour) and pulling the staccato banjo up and away from its wooden bench, lifting the instrument to appreciate trackless expanses and aching freedoms.
The disc's cover is elegantly cartoonish—kind of a cross between a page from a staid indie comic book and the sort of bric-a-brac the New Yorker tosses in when it runs dry of witty cartoons, spare and momentarily surreal, as though grandma's mind had wandered for a moment while reaching for a cookie in the middle of the afternoon ablution. Tea has a few moments of verve and vigor, but they're precious few, rightly so, and contrast nicely with the sedentary mainstay.
Don't think that when the seemingly last song peters out the CD's finished, though. In an exceedingly tiresome play on expectations, the disc claims to have 24 cuts. It doesn't. You just have to wait an unjustifiably long time for it to cycle through artificially induced silent jumps to hear the last selection. That sort of juvenile tomfoolery wore itself out ages ago. Luckily, the quality of the music lessens the grimace arising when this foolish "trick" is discovered.
With releases like this, however, it becomes more and more apparent that roots music is neither dying nor antiquated but going through a long meticulous process of discovering its own strengths and dimensions, maturing into a classicality few would have expected. It's to be hoped that Breadfoot and Phoebe's next effort will subscribe a full agenda, not a scant half-hour, as all this righteous little set of miniatures does is whet the whistle, albeit hugely satisfyingly, for more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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