Tanakh: Ardent Fevers

This fourth Tanakh album is, like its predecessors, largely the work of Jesse Poe. More song-oriented than previous efforts, it nods in the direction of various past luminaries while confidently asserting its own identity thanks to Poe’s particular brand of sensitive, literate songwriting.

Poe is very much the guiding light, singing lead vocals, writing all the lyrics and much of the music, and playing lead electric and acoustic guitar to boot. He’s joined by a large cast of musicians including ex-Belle & Sebastian waif Isobel Campbell on cello and avant drummer Alex Neilson, sounding noticeably more fluid and restrained than on his recent outings with Jandek. The prevailing mood is decidedly mellow and unhurried, with songs like “Deeper” offering cool, jazzy sax and organ flourishes among the conventional alt-rock stylings.

The crepuscular “5 am” sees Tanakh neatly evoking the spirit of Nick Drake with gorgeous acoustic guitar work and rapturous flashes of cornet. Singing in a dark half-whisper, Poe avoids triteness and affectingly romanticises the night-time moment: “I roll over and find you there, so still in your beauty, with your lovely red hair…” On “Like I Used To”, dry-as-dust lap steel guitar (courtesy of Phil Murphy) merges beautifully with Poe’s cyclical riffing to create a warped alt-country mood, while “Restless Hands” settles effortlessly into a lithe folk-pop groove.

As a collection of such languorous moments, Ardent Fevers is well nigh perfect; it has further treasures to yield, however, igniting spectacularly on the lengthy “Still Trying To Find You Home” and “Take & Read.” Both these tracks begin slowly and quietly, with Poe alighting on a solemn Leonard Cohen acoustic plane before opening up into huge juggernauts of Neil Young-style electric riffing. As audacious as they are unexpected, they transform Ardent Fevers from a good album into very nearly a great one.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

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