Castanets Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts

[Asthmatic Kitty; 2009]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles:  country
Others: Bill Callahan, Willie Nelson, Giant Sand

There’s a pick-slide that starts about a minute and 35 seconds into “Thaw And The Beasts” that is probably the most extraordinary moment in all of the 38 and a half minutes that Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts comprises. For a whole minute, Raymond Raposa laboriously, achingly scratches the edge of his pick against his guitar string. It’s slow torture. It’s fucking gorgeous. And for a songwriter known for his plain-spoken lyricism, it’s this instrumental flourish that says most about the song’s mourning desolation.

But that’s why he’s a good songwriter, and not just a good writer.

Where his lyrics lead, as on the plaintive “Dance, Dance,” Raposa’s ragged and weary voice gives weight to simple statements (“She says, ‘come in from the rain’/ Well, hell, I came in from the rain”) and turns of phrase (“It was cold, she had room, hell, I suppose I’m not averse to being tame”). But the fact that Raposa has a way with words is only a piece of what makes his Castanets project and its sixth proper release interesting.

At its sparest, Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts plays like a derelict brood of Willie Nelson and Bill Callahan haunting the darkened corners of a smoke-filled bayou roadhouse. Plaintive, spare, and narrative in approach, these songs — which seem to bookend the album — are among Raposa’s most affecting. But rather than tread water in a sea of sparse-folk already overpopulated by agile wordsmiths with so-so singing voices, Raposa lends his music a Kerouac spirit, exploring an array of sounds — some of which are ill-advised, but seem to revel in the esprit of trying.

“Ignorance Is Blues,” for example, moves from a formless drone to a sax-solo that sounds like a sex scene in an 80s movie. If it weren’t for Raposa’s wandering musical habits, it’d be a total throwaway, but it instead winds up being a perfect segue into “Dance, Dance” and follows the wet-drum and glitch mess that backs Raposa on “Lucky Old Moon.”

Still, it’s for these experiments that Raposa has earned the gift of knowing when to shut up and when a grinding, minute-long slide of the pick can say more than words ever could.

1. Rose
2. On Beginning
3. My Heart
4. Worn From The Fight (With Fireworks)
5. No Trouble
6. Thaw and the Beasts
7. We Kept Our Kitchen Clean and Our Dreaming Quiet
8. Down The Line, Love
9. Lucky Old Moon
10. Ignorance Is Bliss
11. Dance, Dance

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