Ann Arbor folkie Chris Bathgate is a perfect anomaly: His great songs don't sound too folky, his backing band (the epic Great Lakes Myth Society) can sound more like Radiohead and Sonic Youth than the New Bohemians, and his voice is a deep-elm burr that can sound like Nick Drake with a cold and still make you want to listen.
A Cork Tale Wake is an almost-perfect album for all these reasons. Its songs hang together without getting too pretentious. In short, Bathgate is as sick of self-important songwriters as we are, so he commandeers his band accordingly to fit the pensive, restrained intensity of his words. Cork's arrangements are, well, anything but a stage for his autumnal husk; they're fully realized sets.
"Serpentine" twinkles to life like a rain-speckled first dawn, Bathgate's voice winding around gentle upright piano stabs. "The Last Parade on Ann Street" saves the band stuff for after a verse and chorus, so when noisy sheets-of-rain guitar splashes in, it's an epiphany, recalling the best of Tim Friese-Green's production on Talk Talk's early '90s quiet classic Laughing Stock. And when Bathgate doesn't have that much to say, he keeps it mercifully short: "Every Wall You Own," a powerful cut, the album's folkiest, clocks in at less than two-and-a-half minutes. Any more would be too emotionally exhausting for him and for us. Bravo.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.