Washington City Paper, May 15, 2006
Hippy Hippy Fake
By Pamela Murray Winters
The Black Dove
Christian Kiefer and Sharron Kraus
Re-creation was part of the point of Britfolk, of course: It’s not as if those embroidered-waistcoated, acid-dropping dreamers and brooders of the ’60s didn’t know the history they were idealizing. But if you or your record—record—collection is of a certain age, you might observe today’s burgeoning freak-folk movement with some skepticism. Every new trend—especially those that have been new before—brings, if not more bad than good, more mediocre than either. Witness The Black Dove, a collaboration between Christian Kiefer, a Californian who sings like Nick Drake, and Sharron Kraus, an English folksinger who sounds disquietingly American. If Dove were a pastoral painting, it wouldn’t reach Thomas Kinkade levels of glurge, but at its worst it’s like one of those Bob Ross paintings of happy trees. The disc opens with twittery birds and a sad flute that are ultimately engulfed by the clamor of what must be the March of Industry. Instrumental passages link the songs, some of which refer back to themselves—and to the very heritage they’re emulating. For example, “Letting Go, Holding On” opens with banjo and a sound that suggests an ever-spinning hubcap, over which Kraus muses, “Through love Lord Bateman was won/Though he left for seven long years” and, later, “Through love young Tam Lin was saved/Though he changed to a lion, a snake, and red-hot iron.” Kiefer answers her in the next song, “A Snake & a Lion”: “So with Tam Lin a snake and a lion/A snake and a lion and you/I would roll them all into one.” The plot of the disc’s first faux-Appalachian ballad, “Missing,” finds two people sitting in a cemetery, watching as the man somehow loses his wedding ring, which rolls away. Kraus assures us that they’re not lovers, and the song would be a lot more intriguing if we could believe she’s lying. But her voice is far too fussy, too self-consciously pretty, to handle nuance. “White Shroud,” all rattling percussion, wheezy fiddle, and serviceable cello, tries to be psychedelic but succeeds only at reaching noodling. The music attains sepulchral beauty when Kiefer’s soft, whispery tenor is at the fore, as on “Cold Blue Room” and especially the measured, melancholy title song. And when Kraus adds keening harmony on the latter, you can hear what The Black Dove might have been. It just never gets past conjury and into natural magic.