Marissa Nadler 

Songs III: Bird on the Water

Nadler has won ardent, if quiet, international admiration with her willowy acoustic ballads, picking up apt comparisons to an A-list of American folkies that includes Carole King and Karen Dalton. Like Dalton, Nadler has a gift for interpreting others' songs, which makes her intrepid cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" — presented here with Nadler's soprano offering its own whispering harmonies — one of the record's most captivating moments. That "Raincoat" dovetails so perfectly with Nadler's own reticent songs speaks to her great strength for capturing dreary days, damsel days, water days ("My Love and I") and other tragic side effects of love. Downers, certainly, but tunes like "Silvia," a dedication to Sylvia Plath that opens in the belly of a whale, and the arching "Leather Made Shoes" are too dignified to be wholly dejected. The antique, atmospheric production of Greg Weeks (whose band, Espers, supplies much of the auxiliary playing) dresses this package elegantly, supporting Nadler's melodies with ghostly pads of parlor organ and cello. But the distant bells of "Dying Breed" make it the most haunting song; as it mourns the ghost of a hard-gambling lover, the great restraint and evocative storytelling prove Nadler is a rare breed herself.

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