Stefan George: Cloth (Self-Released)

In a recent conversation, Stefan George said he's tried to avoid having his recordings serve as some kind of audio journal. "But that's pretty much what this has turned out to be," he continued, reflecting on the intense personal nature of Cloth, much of which focuses on the recent loss of family and friends.

While there's no title song, "Bad Year for Clowns" could have sufficed. The song initially refers to clowns as society's malcontents and questioners of authority, but the song's most heartfelt lyric is personal, as George receives the news of another clown who has passed on; the words are backed by Kevin Schramm's haunting accordion. While other tunes offer a number of different stylistic backdrops, this is the song that sets the tone.

"Edison St." and "A Knowing Smile" are exquisite tributes to George's brother Erik and father James, respectively. "Paradise Lost," a Dobro instrumental, conjures just enough of a memory of Rainer to add to the melancholy.

There are 15 acoustic tunes here, a collection that showcases George's diversity and creative range without a big-band backup. But that's not to say he's alone. Lavinia White's harmony vocals are strong throughout, while Bobby Kimmel adds occasional acoustic bass and harmonies. This album is also graced by Crawdaddy-O, with the band appearing on two tracks.

Other highlights include "God Damn the Things a Man Can't Change" and the Steve James-influenced "Grooved and Rutted"; "A Hand to Hold" and "Things Are Different Today" are two flat-out great folk songs.

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