Double, double, toil and trouble – The Faun Fables at the Historic Old Church

The scene that took place at the Historic Old Church was nothing short of mesmerizing. The Faun Fables are on tour to support their latest album on Drag City, Light of a Vaster Dark (2010) and to the joy of their devoted audience – show off a few new songs that will be included on their yet-to-be-named upcoming album. The Old Church lends itself to intimate shows, and this was no exception.

faun fables Light of a vaster darkThe fierce magic created by the wife and husband duo Dawn McCarthy and Nils Frykdahl, aka The Faun Fables kept the audience alternately holding their breath and howling at the moon. Eyes closed, singing and playing the guitar McCarthy seemed to be invoking the characters that inhabit her songs. McCarthy’s vocals were powerful and ethereal – soaring up into the rafters of the Old Church – her performance was otherworldly.

McCarthy & Frykdahl have been collaborating together for over a decade, and their deep kinship was evident throughout their performance. Supported on stage twice by their two young daughters, to the delight of both parents and the audience, the arrangements and instrumentation remained simple. McCarthy singing and playing either guitar or drumming while Frykdahl supported the dark melodies by playing counterpoint bass and flute.

McCarthy and Frykdahl command attention while onstage and easily held the audience in a trance – there was no shuffling, checking of phones, texting, or any indication that a single person at the show wasn’t completely enthralled by their music. At the end of the hour-long set, a gentleman – in top hat and all – sitting next to me sighed and said, “I guess it’s time to return to the real world.” Indeed.

Faun Fables, Light of A Vaster Dark (Drag City, 2010)

Led by vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables & Bonnie Prince Billie) and guitarist/percussionist Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) the music of Faun Fables is often cited as being akin to the music made by artists of the early UK folk scene such as Vashti Bunyan, Fairport Convention, and The Incredible String Band. Drawing 60’s forest folk together with themes rooted in Norse, Celtic, and even American mythology Faun Fables weave these influences into their music through instrumentation and lyrics that harken to a gypsy life, or a lost Eastern European waltz that has crashed into a psychedelic bonfire – creating a haunting sound that is as beautiful as it is original.

Light of a Vaster Dark (Drag City, 2010) is Faun Fables sixth album to date. Like 2006’s The Transit Rider (Drag City) Light of a Vaster Dark is conceptual – yet, reflecting the time that has passed – this record feels more mature both musically and thematically. For Light of a Vaster Dark, McCarthy & Frykdahl utilize the ancient form of song cycle and the record includes 11 songs in four sets, divided by three interludes and bookended by an intro/outro – which bestows an organic rhythm to the album. As the record moves from darkness toward light and back again – McCarthy’s songs engage both the mystical and mundane. The lyrics throughout this record reflect the feeling that there is both purpose and beauty held within the simple, repetitive tasks performed by the inhabitants of her songs such as the “violet eyed women of blazing pioneer lands” we find in “Violet” and the woman who is “Working hard, no praises said/Scrubbing the dirt and making the beds” in “Housekeeper”.

McCarthy is a particularly enchanting storyteller with a voice that readily transports the listener into a kind of esoteric otherworld full of wonder and awe. A constant sense of urgency permeates both the lyrics and the music whether McCarthy is whispering or howling, creating an album that demands that the listener engage. We become active participants as McCarthy transports us into the magical world she has created within Light of a Vaster Dark (Drag City, 2010).

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