After writing an entire album centered on the unsolved 1968 murder of a girl near his childhood home (2008’s The Island Moved in the Storm), Matt Bauer has again turned to the subject of his native Kentucky with The Jessamine County Book of the Living, a record that is an intimate, personal, and often fantastical interpretation of the natural world.
Dead deer sing songs of hope to the living, ants hunt down ghost mites in a forest of feathers on a heron’s back, horses drift to sleep wishing they knew how to speak, a man and a coyote meet each other at the edge of the suburbs and the forest – each wondering at the alien creature that has crossed into his world.
At times intensely spare, but more often blooming into sweeping orchestral arrangements, The Jessamine County Book of the Living, is a vision of central and eastern Kentucky as if arranged by Moondog and filtered through Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. Bauer cites the human headed deer in Mononoke, whose every step brings life and destruction, as a recurring inspiration. The record exudes a fascination with the overwhelming abundance, power, beauty, and, ultimately, crushingly neutral indifference of the natural world. As the speaker in the song “All the Wolves That I’ve Known” says, “It’s almost a horror how joy springs up and chokes the dark!”
Along with Bauer’s unique banjo melodies, played in a style that owes as much to Indonesian gamelan as it does to the music of Appalachia, the album boasts nearly 20 guest musicians from his current home of Brooklyn and his former home, San Francisco. Among them are frequent collaborator Jolie Holland, Angel Deradoorian (Dirty Projectors), Mariee Sioux, Jay and Alex Foote (Sufjan Stevens, Welcome Wagon), and a ten piece orchestra of strings, brass, woodwinds, vibraphone and chimes.
The Jessamine County Book of the Living is an album both highly emotional and oddly calming, alternately sprawling and economical, with light and beauty even in the darkest corners, and a darkness in the brightest light.
“Brilliant!” – New York Magazine
“Matt Bauer conjures a warm yet slightly eerie mood with his banjo driven
alt folk. The Greenpoint-via-Kentucky folkster has a gorgeous whispery way
with a song.” – Time Out New York
“At the risk of preaching to the choir, I will state again that Matt Bauer’s
newest, The Jessamine County Book Of The Living, is easily one of this
year’s strongest releases.” – My Old Kentucky Blog
“A continuation of greatness which demonstrates Bauer’s firm grasp of the
songwriting craft.” – Muzzle of Bees
“Moody folk that’s as much Appalachian as it is apparition. His last album
was about the murder of a girl near his childhood home in 1968. His new
full length, with Bauer’s pensive banjo and guest vocals from Jolie Holland
and The Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian, is no less haunting.” – IFC
“There is an economic darkness on this recording. Lonely banjos ride along sharp ridges, horns swirl in cold creeks, and there is subtle sense of loss in Bauer’s music that leaves the impression of a man whose demons will not be stilled.” – Skyscraper
“He’s channeling something heavy, preparing the rest of us for a darkness or beauty that we aren’t yet ready to receive. We believe Matt Bauer is a prophet.” – Thrasher Magazine
“Matt Bauer plays a ghostly sort of folk, wreathed in delicate webs of banjo and whispered with a lightness Sam Beam might envy.” – Philadelphia Weekly
“Matt Bauer whispers the details in a beautiful feathery rasp, inviting you join him as and eyewitness to the secrets of this sad story.” – WFMU