Album Review: Cinder Well, ‘No Summer’
On No Summer, Amelia Baker, performing as Cinder Well, weaves the drone of her organ or the circular strums of her guitar around and under Mae Kessler’s vibrating and somber violin bowings and plucks and with Marit Schmidt’s quivering viola notes. The lilt of Celtic folk meets the loneliness of Appalachian folk meets the echoing shudders of chamber music on No Summer (Free Dirt.) Every song revels in earthiness even as it transcends the confines of this world in a soaring spirituality.
“Wandering Boy,” the opening track, rides along Baker’s piercing a capella vocals for a few measures before the drone of her organ floats airily, and eerily, underneath the vocals. Her version of Roscoe Holcombe’s song—Baker adds a final verse—evokes a mother’s love for her wandering son and her son’s recollection of that love that protects him when he’s far from home. The shimmering title track proceeds along spare guitar strums and vocals and with a deliberate pace along a minor chord that captures the bleakness of a usually bright season that has now turned bleak. Baker creates a haunting scene in “Our Lady’s.” The song’s narrator is an abandoned mental asylum in Ennis, County Clare, and the trembling strings, plucky banjo, and bare vocals, along with the lyrics depicting scenes from the grounds and inside the walls, summon up the living character of the place. The final line of the song—“There is joy there”—belies the darkness and horror that the asylum represents to the town near it. Baker’s version of Jean Ritchie’s “The Cuckoo” again develops slowly and deliberately and features only Baker on guitar and vocals as she warns all young women “never to give your affections to the love of a man/for the roots will wither, the branches decay/he’ll turn his back on you, and he’ll walk square away.” The closing track, “From Behind the Curtain,” wraps layer around musical layer as it spirals upward, transporting us into an ethereal space in which nature and spirit meet.
The rhythms and melodies on No Summer circle back on themselves, creating a lush forest of sounds that enfold us in their encircling arms. Baker creates mesmerizing songscapes that unfold spaciously, inviting us to enter them wherever we find a space and to inhabit them and dwell in their haunting and transporting beauty.
‘No Summer’ is available at Apple Music, Amazon, and Bandcamp.