Release Date: Oct 3, 2006
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
The world faces no shortage of hyper-literate American songwriters fashioning their book-learnin' into ambitious, whimsical folk-pop, but few can spin a yarn or hone a melody as persuasively as the Decemberists' Colin Meloy. The Crane Wife is his grandest enterprise yet, partly based on a Japanese folk-tale and peopled with murderers, thieves and homesick soldiers. Why write what you know when you can write about the American civil war and the Shankill butchers instead? The centre-piece is a heroically barmy prog-rock three-parter called The Island, which is just flamboyant enough to work.
Colin Meloy and his brave Decemberists made the unlikely jump to a major label after 2005's excellent Picaresque, a move that surprised both longtime fans and detractors of the band. While it is difficult to imagine the suits at Capitol seeing dollar signs in the eyes of an accordion- and bouzouki-wielding, British folk-inspired collective from Portland, OR, that dresses in period Civil War outfits and has been known to cover Morrissey, it's hard to argue with what the Decemberists have wrought from their bounty. The Crane Wife is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale that concerns a crane, an arrow, a beautiful woman, and a whole lot of clandestine weaving.
It's a tall tale only Colin Meloy could spin out of his hyperrustic imagination: Scrappy scullery maid makes good and swaps her ratty dress and stained apron for drippy jewels and haute couture. For the Decemberists' fourth full-length album, the Portland, Ore., quintet signed to Capitol Records after years of laboring on indie labels. And while the Chris Walla-produced Wife certainly boasts a patina of money, Meloy's songwriting is still populated by the usual scoundrels, rapscallions, and distressed damsels.