The Court and Spark 

Witch Season

"Suffolk Down Upon the Night," the opening track on the Court and Spark's third album, is so lush, precise, and layered that it could've rolled out of Lindsey Buckingham's obsessive mind circa Tusk. Replace white-line fever with something less paranoia-inducing and more natural, and you have an idea as to the full palette this SF institution is working with this time out.

The C&S has enlisted more than a dozen musicians to help pound this baroque, cosmic country-soul into shape. Occasionally it digs deeper into traditional folk and C&W, but it's songs like "Suffolk," the soulful "Out on the Water," and the drifting, darkening spiral of "Steeplechasing" that truly conjure up some new vistas. Witch Season's title is no doubt a nod to Joe Boyd's early-'70s production company, responsible for putting out records by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, and the Incredible String Band. But this record is no ode to the mystical forest travelers of yore, nor does it exist firmly in the present. It instead presents an array of seriously good musicians with an ear for the incidental sounds that exist outside of the melody, playing bright and often quite brilliant songs that blend and bleed in a haze of blue smoke.

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