May 3rd, 2012
The last time I saw bearded Baltimore folk-fuzz-rockers Arbouretum I’d heard nothing by them. I was going by the sporadic but emphatic buzz emanating from certain lantern-toting music buffs in the know who treated the band with the hushed reverence only attained by masters of their craft.
The hairy hermits were right. I left stunned and smiling, clutching a t-shirt with an alchemical glyph of a lion-headed snake coming out of an egg on it in one hand, a vinyl copy of latest Carl Jung-influenced album The Gathering in the other. Truly, I drunkenly blabbed, I have come across something special.
A year later and somehow they’re back in town on tour with Hush Arbors, having released a split album with him. Would they be able to do it again, or was it some kind of freak occurrence?
Keith Wood, the seasoned alt-rock player behind Hush Arbors, is up first. He stands motionless on the small stage, stroking melancholy yet pretty chords out of his electric guitar and singing in his plaintive, high pitched voice. It’s mellow and wistful in a Neil Young sort of way, evoking a heartbroken mood you can pleasantly wallow in.
Then surprise guest Luke Roberts emerges to tell some egg jokes and play his battered guitar. Lanky and squinting, he looks about 20 but has the heavy lidded eyes and bushy beard of a 50 something. The grizzly voice too, singing quirky country songs in a deep Nashville burr.
Finally it’s Arbouretum’s turn. The first track is a bit stodgy, the sound is a bit off, it’s all a bit run of the mill.
Then they play some more. Things settle. I remember why they’re one of the best live acts around.
The awesome rhythm section, churning and rolling and thundering, provides the solid tree for the sinewy vine of Heumann’s guitar and voice – linked in melody and refrain – to wrap its way upwards on its way towards high and sunlit realms.
Slightly plodding album track Down by the Fall Line is reborn into a live incantation which slowly smoulders before exploding with bright white light. Incendiary and ecstatic guitar soloing from Heumann electrifies spinal columns, opens third eyes, causes spontaneous kundalini awakenings, while the rest of the band provide a swirling smoking groove to keep us locked into the flesh and nodding to the beat.
We’re brought back to a charmed earth with the archetypal imagery and folk narrative of Mohammed’s Hex and Bounty. Its subtle, warm feel has that folky 70s vibe yet still sounds unmistakably Arbouretum. The tracks from The Gathering are better than ever, Heumann’s guitar deftly calibrated for each track, the band honed and solid but still utterly present.
I leave stunned and smiling clutching the new split album on vinyl but no t-shirt because I’ve already got one and the new design isn’t as good. Truly, I blab to you dear reader, they are something special.