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Austin Chronicle Red Hand

JULY 20, 1998: 


Red Hand (Willow)

I'm sitting in a Boston apartment, hunched over a manual typewriter, hunting and pecking my way through a story. I'm lost in what I'm writing, and though the radio is on, I'm not really listening to it. It's tuned to WBCN, which proudly calls itself "Underground Radio" (what we might call free form -- no playlist, anything goes). As I'm writing, the deejay plays a long electronic music piece. Lulled by it, I continue typing. He snaps it into Buffy St. Marie doing a reading/incantation from Leonard Cohen's novel Beautiful Losers called something like "Love Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot," which has an electronic music lead-in. It's an electrifying moment. Rather than stop doing what I'm doing to listen, I sink deeper in my work, still listening to every word and sound. The music becomes more than songs on the radio; it's the air itself, and I am drenched by it. A few weeks ago, 30 years later, at home, working on a computer, listening to new CDs, I put on Ingrid Karklins & Backbone's Red Hand. There's a stack of new releases, but this is the one I end up playing again and again over the course of the next weeks, whenever I work. There are the songs and the music, but in the dark of the room, lit only by a computer screen, there's something more. Boasting any number of influences, from rock to pop to choral to Latvian folk, Karklins creates deep musical textures, the moody evocative music played mostly by Karklins on piano, Steve Bernal on bass, and Thor handling percussion with various strange stringed instruments making guest appearances. The driving force is Karklins' amazing voice. I think first of this CD as not a collection of songs, but as a weave of music with Karklins' voice floating through and over it, sometimes singing, sometimes speaking, sometimes just a sound. On later, more careful listenings, those critical excursions where you try to think what it is you're thinking about the music and write it down, I came to admire the songs as individual efforts -- works of music and words rather than just sound and touch. Karklins writes really lovely lyrics, matched to the textures of the music. But to talk about it in that way, for me, is misleading, in the same way music is beyond logic and language. Red Hand's power is in emotion, texture and memory. It's not just a sound, it's a place.
4 stars -- Louis Black

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