Horse Feathers, The Luminaire, London

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The Independent Culture

Portland quartet Horse Feathers are defined by their folk-inspired string arrangements – a complex layering of acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and cello, blended together for a contemporary take on Americana. Songwriter and front man, Justin Ringle, artfully captures a mosaic of Prairie pioneers, Dust Bowl migrants, bare-feet cabin dwellers and the spirit of Frontierism. Each song is a lyrical artifact, a doleful southern Gothic retelling of the displacement of human emotions and feelings shot through a naturalistic landscape of past existences and faded American tradition.

The evening offers up songs from the band's three albums: the 2010 release Thistled Spring, 2008's House with No Name, and their 2006 debut, Words Are Dead. The central motif of each is found in nature; the exploration of agrarian landscapes serves as the primary metaphor for the mood and tone of the pieces. Stylistically the songs are intricate, crafted variations on folk tunes accompanied by the overlay of strings in a classical context.

Tonight, Horse Feathers open with the melancholic, rustic ballad "Mother's Sick"; hushed vocals whisper harmonies over bluegrass banjo, and the meticulous violin and cello arrangements usher in classical, refined elements. In "Working Poor", the American folk-style melody is evocative of bonfire-lit migrant dances, a fictional musical minuet that warmly illuminates momentary triumphs over human hardships.

Horse Feathers play their music from the heart; it is intense and penetrative upon the senses and the atmosphere takes on a spiritual quality as the crowd are stilled in contemplative silence. The symphonic elegance of "Starving Robins" demonstrates the players' gifted instrumentation. The soft airiness of Ringle's vocals enhance each melody by the subtle emulation of them. Lyrics examine the themes of memory, youth and the progression of time.