An overlooked Cairo Gang recording gets another chance



Emmett Kelly
Last month I wrote about Corner Man (Empty Cellar), the fantastic recent album from Chicago's Cairo Gang, in a preview for a show they were doing at the Empty Bottle. Generally the group consists of guitarist, singer, and songwriter Emmett Kelly and anyone who happens to be playing with him, but of late he's developed a strong, steady working band, as proved by the amazing set I saw. In my preview I referred to the album as the follow-up to an eponymous 2006 effort made for Narnack Records; happily, I was mistaken. While digging around for additional info on the project I noticed a recording titled Twyxt Wyrd, which was released in a very limited CD run in 2007 and issued in a slightly larger LP edition in 2010. I falsely assumed it was some kind of stopgap minor release, but this week I was corrected.

Although it doesn't match the splendor and full-bodied excellence of the latest record, Twyxt Wyrd is no toss off, and now it's obvious that it represents the crucial link between the Narnack album and Corner Man. The eight-song collection was recorded on a single day in 2006 with a terrific supporting cast—Chris Rodahaffer joining Kelly on guitar, Ben Vida and Robert A.A. Lowe on keyboards, Joshua Abrams on bass, and Nori Tanaka on drums—and includes eight crystalline originals distinguished by a beautiful directness and simmering intensity. It doesn't have the gorgeous harmony singing of Corner Man, but there's something so pure and fragile in Kelly's voice, particularly when it creeps into falsetto range, that hearing it by itself is just as rewarding as experiencing it within a thicket of overdubbed harmonies. The music alternates between stripped-down British folk a la Nick Drake and Laurel Canyon folk-pop, but there's nothing retro about the performances and arrangements.

The great Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød—of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra fame and the cocreator of If Grief Could Wait, one of my ten top albums of 2012—met Kelly in 2008, when she was asked by Will Oldham to open for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, for whom Kelly has functioned as a key instrumental foil. They've all become friends since then, and Kelly played guitar all over Wallumrød's gorgeous 2012 album Wild Dog (Rune Grammofon). Now she's advocating for the Cairo Gang by making Twyxt Wyrd the first release on her SusannaSonata label that she doesn't appear on. Granted, Twyxt Wyrd is available only digitally, but I sure am glad it's out there. Below you can check out one of its typically lovely, intimate tracks, "Coyote."

Today's playlist:

Joji Yuasa, Obscure Tape Music of Japan Vol. 14: Background Sound in Textile Pavillion of EXPO '70 (Omega Point)
Scorch Trio, Melaza (Rune Grammofon)
Anne La Berge, Speak (New World)
Wendy Rene, After Laughter Comes Tears (Light in the Attic)
Laura Kahle, Circular (Dark Key Music)

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