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March 2000 Pick of the Month
Available from Amazon
Artist: Feathermerchants
Label: Indie 
Length: 53.09minutes/12 tracks

Black Dog Smile
Crazy Girl

As the entertainment industry behemoths combine their forces in an attempt  to assert control over the Internet as a means of distribution, it is perhaps an apt time to reflect on the net's recent history as a tool which put the independent on equal footing with major acts. Having scooped the "best artist" award at the Intel New Music Festival in New York in 1998, Feathermerchants are a fine example of a band who have managed to establish themselves while staying free of the typical music industry shackles.

Taking their name from an 18th century term meaning "slacker", Feathermerchants share a similar musical vision with artists like Dead Can Dance, whose attempts to fuse eastern and western musical forms are a constant undercurrent here, but on some tracks veer closer to the pop sensibilities of the Sundays, another cited influence.  The one consistent strand in the band's musical tapestry is the female vocals provided by Erin O'Hara and Alison Winston. Reminiscent at times of British act Eve And The Garden, particularly on tracks like the middle-eastern sounding "Runaway", the vocals don't have the power or other-worldly feel that marked Lisa Gerrard's contributions to Dead Can Dance but ride sublimely on top of the music.

The eastern and middle eastern influences on Feathermerchants are felt more clearly on some tracks than others. The overall impression is more of an eastern-influenced pop record than a return to Peter Gabriel's Passion. But that balance makes for an intriguing album, which is instantly accessible but also multi-layered enough to gradually draw in the listener. Sometimes it's not quite right, and it feels as if a slightly stronger nod to one or other musical culture would help the album along, but those moments are rare.

Through lyrics which switch between introspective and observational, the band sing of relationships, society, and experience, but don't give much hint of any particular faith. There is, however, a sense of a desire for truth and clarity, for peace and fulfillment. The lyrics are well phrased, if not particularly striking, and complement the music.

An interesting blend of cultures which brings eastern elements to a western idiom, while respecting both. Feathermerchants's music is both relaxing and engrossing.

James Stewart 2/11/2000


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