Horse Feathers: Thistled Spring (Kill Rock Stars)

Generous space and a delicious restraint enrich the music of Horse Feathers as it wraps the listener in an embrace that is at once spooky, beautiful and reassuring—as if Aaron Copland were producing a chamber-music recording by an alt-Americana band.

From Idaho by way of his current headquarters in Port-land, Ore., bandleader Justin Ringle creates Appalachian music transplanted to the Northwest and the prairie. He composes blown-glass songs laced with blood-rich marrow, the ideal vehicles for his fragile, high voice. But much of the elegance must also be credited to cellist Catherine Odell, violinist Nathan Crockett and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cooper.

Following the stark, winter-like settings of the band's 2008 album House With No Home, a springtime theme prevails. The delicate piano and accompanying strings of the title track inspire images of sprouting shoots struggling from thawed ground. Ringle's lyrics sometimes examine heartache and pain, and the space between needs and wants, but a message of rejuvenation courses through.

Images of barn-raisings and country dances bloom from the warmth of "This Bed" and "Belly of June." The swooping strings of "The Drought" capture a mood of darkness and hope. Less austere is the almost-rockin' "Veronia Blues." The string players incorporate both bowing and plucking on the romantic "Cascades," which sounds like a rainstorm building from delicate initial droplets to a swollen storm.


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