Under The Yew Possessed


aec.nsco61.2 9/14/18 New

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Review Text After leaving Strawberry Switchblade in 1986, Rose McDowell kept very busy. She demoed songs (some she had written for the never-made second Switchblade album), worked in Iceland with a young Björk, sang backup for Felt and Coil, collaborated with Boyd Rice under the name Spell, and was a member of Current 93. She had a need for an outlet for her own songs, so she and her husband, Robert Lee, formed Sorrow. The idea was to combine Rose's bittersweet melodies and direct yet ethereal vocals with Lee's classical and avant-garde influences, and their first album, 1993's Under the Yew Possessed, shows that their collaboration was a strong one. While it definitely leans more toward McDowell's side of the equation and some of the songs are cut from the same cloth of knowing innocence as the best Switchblade songs were, Lee brings gauzy atmosphere and gothic baroque strings to the mix. At its best, like on the aching ballad "Forgive Me," the gleaming jangle pop nightmare "Emptyness," or the shoegazey doo wop number "Ruby Tears," the sound is pure girl groups in witch hats, the Shangri-Las casting spells on a gloomy night or the Murmaids sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea. McDowell's voice conveys all kinds of pain in its simplicity and honesty, while the music is both mysterious and comforting. Most of the album follows this sad and meandering path, but some tracks veer off into less well-trodden areas. The fragile "Darkness" is a peacefully meandering freak folk ballad, "Dew of the Sea" is an ambient sound poem that features Rose intoning the lyrics in a mystical whisper, and "Loki & Evil" is the one song that would see them filed in the "goth" section in a record store. These diversions are suitably spooky and strange, and reveal the duo's sonic range and storytelling abilities. Most importantly, they don't distract from the moments of dark and majestic pop that give the album a timeless beauty. McDowell and Lee were able to capture a moment and sound perfectly, and if barely anyone noticed, it certainly wasn't their fault. Songs as perfectly constructed and sung as "Die" and "Songbird" were too fragile and true for the masses anyway. Under the Yew Possessed works better as a hidden treasure or a lost scroll that reveals itself magically to those lucky enough to discover its brilliance. ~ Tim Sendra

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