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05 May 14 Ordinary Elephant: Dusty Words and Cardboard Boxes

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CD Review
Ordinary Elephant: Dusty Words and Cardboard Boxes
Pete Damore and Crystal Hariu-Damore, released August 2013

Bill Aspinwall

Magic comes in all sizes. It’s not always obvious, but if you’re paying attention, like saints and poets and the IRS, one can learn to pick up on the traces of pleasure signals, the joy twitch of the limbic and the call of wild bliss that can round off the rough edges of the daily grind.

Dusty Words and Cardboard BoxesIt’s hard to define with music, but most people, in the fashion of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, seem to know it when they hear it; a celestial vibration, a something special that sets apart some music from the rest. It’s that distinct sensation that what you are hearing is extraordinary in its own way. This was part of the extraordinary experience that you can experience in the music of Pete Damore and Crystal Hariu-Damore, a duet named Ordinary Elephant.

It’s not just raw talent, although that’s not a bad place to start. The part that becomes magic for Ordinary Elephant is the blend, the sound that becomes more than the sum of the individual parts. And for Ordinary Elephant all of the various parts make for an extraordinary blend: vocals, instruments and lyrics. Doesn’t hit you like a sledge, it’s sly and complex; some sweet, some savory.

Hariu-Damore is the primary vocalist and her voice projects smoothness with a very slight undertone of roughness. Raw silk, maybe; powerful, too. All too many vocalists these days couldn’t perform without a microphone. Not a problem for Crystal – she has the true old school talent of projection and power. Also plays clean rhythm guitar, a vastly underrated skill.

Damore is a talented multi-instrumentalist – banjo, guitar and mandolin; maybe others, but not on this record. Talented in that he’s capable of taking clawhammer banjo in new directions, with a spare, but melodic bent. He can fashion chromatic choices beyond his young age. As many others have observed, it takes most young musicians awhile to aim at the notes that count, not the note count, or the rate at which they can spewed from an instrument. Skill versus artistry; seems like Damore already has a feel for that.

And then there’s that whole blend thing – like their voices were made to go together and we’d all feel deprived if for some Ordinary Elephantreason they chose not to sing together. It’s probably more common among siblings and such. But when a man and a woman find it between themselves, well, hell, they sometimes end up getting married. And we’re all the luckier for that – congratulations, Pete and Crystal.

I can remember the first time hearing them and that’s not something I can say about many musical acts that I’ve heard, in 50-some years of listening. And the next wonderful part is that they have recently released a CD and the recordings sound just like the live performance – in a good way, like The Band, or the Carter Family or the Louvin Brothers.

Their recorded work is entitled “Dusty Words and Cardboard Boxes”. This is their first project, but the understated and tasteful choices made might make you think otherwise. Recorded at White Cat Studios, with the venerable guidance of Jack Saunders, it’s a fine collection of songs.

    “better than this” – here you get a good sample of the raw silk power of Crystal’s voice, along with some slinky blends of lead playing, Pete picking subtle threads of guitar and banjo.
    “here again” – another distinctive banjo solo that is an example of artistry by spare, but melodic choice. I tend to think of two schools of clawhammer banjo; the happy melodicism of Wade Ward versus the high whining rapid drone of Kyle Creed. In modern times, you can’t read the first thing about clawhammer without tripping over Steve Martin, who is as fine a practitioner as any – but what I think we have here with Pete Damore is the possibility for new directions.
    “learning to dance” – another fine vocal by Crystal (every track is good…), but what is distinct here is a modern vibe, an almost John Mayer-like influence in the music. That being said, even the most die-hard traditionalists will love this record, but this cut, in its own subtle way, finds the means to bridge old and new.

A great effort all around, with solid bass work by Jack Saunders and elegant fiddle by Eleanore Whitmore. Every time you listen there’s a little lagniappe to discover in each tune. What is even more intriguing is the sense of great potential. It’s fairly clear that Ordinary Elephant has made an impressive start, but oh, what wonderful places they may eventually go. That’s a journey we can all look forward to.

You can order your own copy or buy individual tracks, if that’s your persuasion, on their website:

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