Memorably obscure names draw notice to The Horse’s Ha, an all-Chicago, sixties throwback psych-folk-jazz collaboration conceived by James Elkington (The Zincs) and Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater/Eleventh Dream Day).
Honestly, it was reading “Janet Bean of Freakwater” that impelled me to open the window and give a listen.
As a whole, The Cathmawr Yards (Hidden Agenda, June 9th) casts an instantly drowsy spell. Occasionally, a shard of awareness pokes while listening as a moderately scary word bubbles to assertion, but then the undertow trance lulls you back in. You could easily listen coma style while not realizing you’re being led to a witching zone.
James Elkington, whose lyrically strange songwriting strolls through pedestrian parks into autumn leaves and spiderwebs ’till it reaches graveside, draws emphasis to guitar with interesting fingerpicking and oozes the smooth of a close shave with his low, melodic voice. Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater/Eleventh Dream Day), whose high, haunting voice has, until now, served primarily as a comfortably seated harmony, now stands more firmly as oft the lead. The two take up residence in a cemetary of eerie adventures driven by jazzy brushed drums, exceptional cello and a quirky smattering of instrumental adornment.
While in a semi-sleep, I jotted down a sampling of the weirdness creeping in on The Horse’s Ha: skeletons blood pox sinister kitchen knife thunder horror piss river drinks its medicine cut this beak gone numb leather torn soil break hammer’s blow struck injected moon bent cockspur ghost landslide slovenly throw themselves down crack left drives spikes spiders break branches cut roots
Why the two were inspired to musically create the equivalent of a nice little old lady who pops out at you as her flesh melts into a smoking skeleton is left open for interpretation. However, intellectually, the thematic origins make sense: “The Cathmawr Yards” is the name of a fictitious graveyard in Wales, the setting for a Dylan Thomas short story about zombies, entitled “The Horse’s Ha.”