Tin Hat Trio – The Rain Is a Handsome Animal (2012)
The San Francisco-based quartet Tin Hat isn’t in itself a new project. Formed in in 1997 as Tin Hat Trio and then rechristened Tin Hat in 2004, the outfit had five albums under its belts prior to recording the song cycle the rain is a handsome animal. What separates the new release from the others, however, is that it’s the first time a Tin Hat recording has largely oriented itself around the singing of violinist Carla Kihlstedt (even if past recordings have included vocals by Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, and Mike Patton in addition to Kihlstedt). The album’s lyrics are derived from the poetry of e.e. cummings (yes, the famously lower-case poet), but there’s no need to be scared off by the recording’s literary connection. Elements of klezmer, tango, jazz, and even blues inform Tin Hat’s music. Reich’s playing on “a cloud on a leaf” calls to mind Piazzolla, while the interplay between Kihlstedt’s strings and Goldberg’s clarinets reveals Tin Hat’s connection to klezmer and related musical forms. The intimate tone of the album is established at the outset when “a cloud on a leaf” presents a samba-slash-tango of the kind one would more likely encounter in a small cafe than formal concert hall. Kihlstedt’s voice also humanizes the material by being less operatic and conservatory-like and more natural in its delivery, and she’s certainly up to the vocal challenge, too, as the upward ascent she effortlessly scales in “2 little whos” makes clear.