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A Ghostly Voice That Swoops and Swoons

Pinetop Seven's elegantly obtuse songs are virtually impossible to pigeonhole.
Pinetop Seven's elegantly obtuse songs are virtually impossible to pigeonhole.

"Hurry Home Dark Cloud" begins unassumingly enough, as a strummed acoustic guitar paves the way for banjoes and sleigh bells. But this is a Pinetop Seven song, and in Pinetop Seven songs, calm austerity rarely fails to swell into something broader and more ambitiously dramatic.

Even by the band's own standards of ornate beauty, "Hurry Home Dark Cloud" -- the peak and centerpiece of Beneath Confederate Lake, an odds-and-ends collection recorded during the making of last year's lovely The Night's Bloom -- sounds especially striking. Singer Darren Richard's voice swoops and swoons elegantly, even operatically, making it the key instrument in a mix rife with strings, organs, and bells.

What Richard lacks in willingness to enunciate -- his songwriting reads like obtuse but evocative poetry, making a lyric sheet a worthwhile companion piece -- he makes up for in presence, as his voice meshes perfectly with Pinetop Seven's lavish, lovely instrumentation. On "Hurry Home Dark Cloud," the collision sounds otherworldly, even downright ghostly.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)