New Minnesota music roundup: Immigrant songs by Red Thread

Plus spooky chamber music from Claude de Lune and honky tonk from Michael Gay

A person poses for a photo.
Red Thread is a close-harmony folk group featuring songwriter/lead vocalist Sarah Larsson.
Courtesy of Michelle Bennett from Wolfskull Creative

“Immigrantke,” Red Thread

Released Feb. 23

Red Thread is a close-harmony folk group featuring songwriter/lead vocalist Sarah Larsson, Julia Hobart and Sophie Javna, and their first album is a collection of immigrant songs, sung in English, Yiddish and Serbian.

Although this collection presents measured, frequently exquisite arrangements, unlike The Pogues’ frantic Celtic punk, Red Thread recalls the Irish band’s fascination with exile and diaspora, the experience of being a stranger in a strange place.

“Eyder Ikh Leyg Mikh Shlofn,” a Jewish song about a frustrated seamstress, gives us Larsson singing to guitar accompaniment in a classic Yiddish theater style, an appealing if sometimes unsettling mix of sardonic phrasing and sudden surges of yelping anguish.

The strangest and loveliest track on the album is “She Moved Through the Fair,” sung over groaning, minimal instruments. This is a once-obscure Irish tenor song made famous by Margaret Barry, a Traveller who reflected the song’s popularity in her community while also leaning into the song’s off-center mixolydian melody and spooky story, telling of broken hearts and a ghost.

Red Thread adds some sobbing klezmer clarinet and Larsson sings it as though acting as a medium for a long-dead Irishwoman.

See also: Minneapolis artist sings her family’s immigration history
An image of a CD cover02
"Shadowland" by Claude de Lune.
Courtesy image

“Shadowland,” Claude de Lune

Released Jan. 9

There’s no information about Claude de Lune on its Bandcamp page, where this album is the only record listed, with its striking cover, seeming to be a theatrical image from the early part of the 20th century.

There is also an image of the wounded moon from Georges Méliès’ 1902 film “Le voyage dans la lune,” but these two images seem appropriate.

Claude de Lune offers nine compositions of lush, often angular chamber music, much of it very short — the whole album only lasts seven minutes. The compositions are striking, sounding like something that might play behind an especially challenging silent film, sometimes offering stabbing strings, sometimes pulsing oboe parts atop which other string instruments seem to dance a staggering waltz.

Find a weird old film — say, Dwain Esper’s baffling 1934 film “Maniac” — turn the sound off, and let this album play behind it. I expect the music and images will somehow line up perfectly.

An image of a CD cover01
"Live from a Dive," Michael Gay and His Dang Band.
Courtesy image

“Live from a Dive,” Michael Gay & His Dang Band

Released March 22

Minneapolis country singer Michael Gay, oft-mustachioed and trucker-capped, recorded this collection live at the Terminal Bar in Minneapolis, providing the collection an appealing and appropriate roughness.

Gay cites John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker as influences and offers up the same sort of affably downbeat songs that they pioneered; the songs feel like they should be sung ragged and half-drunk at a dive bar. Gay’s small band is superb, providing a driving drum and pedal steel guitar backing, sounding like the sort of Orange County honky tonk that used to play in 1970s blue-collar comedies.

Gay is a clever songwriter — his lyrics tell tales of heartbreak in brisk, surprising couplets. In “Bus Brakes,” a song about living vicariously through depressing radio songs, he sings “They’d sing a beauty so ethereally, it couldn’t be material at all,” while the sounds of buses passing outside remind him that others have the experiences he can only imagine.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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