When you hear that Lost in the Trees combine folk music with classical elements, you may just shrug and think you’ve heard this before. Folk music with a string section — a well-worn path, right?
Yes. But not in the way the members of Lost in the Trees are doing it on All Alone In An Empty House. Ari Picker and the rest of the players prove to be both students of classical and folk music (among other genres) and players capable of marrying those disparate elements harmoniously.
The expansive, dramatic feel of the title track shows this marriage perfectly. Cellos don’t drift ineffectually over acoustic guitars here. Instead, strings and haunting backing vocals soak into this song. Really it sounds as if the strings themselves are the true foundation, and Picker wanders into their sad, heavy milieu with his guitar and belts out a song. This and “Walk Around the Lake” show the dramatic, and awfully impressive, combination of sounds this collective is capable of. They go whole-hog into both sides — there’s no dabbling here — and manage to pull off both the folky and the classical confidently.
The real success, though, comes not necessarily in the meshing of sounds as much in the exploration Picker and company drift through on this record. There’s neo-classical instrumental takes, like “Mvt. I Sketch” and “Mvt. II Sketch.” Other tracks, particularly standout “Fireplace,” introduce a rocking country riff to the sound — something just funky enough to remind you of Shotgun Willie-era Willie Nelson — that beefs up the sound in a surprising new way.
Although this record is technically a reissue (it was originally put out by Trekky Records in 2008), it has been refined and re-recorded by produced Scott Solter, and he has made all the band’s strengths shine through. In fact, their ability to surprise here makes the moments when they play it straight seem a little light. Simple folk tunes like “Song For The Painter” or “Wooden Walls Of This Empty Church” may contain a flourish of piano here and there, but they don’t seem to have the same weight as the more intricate songs around them.
Still, the band never settles down in something simple. For every one of those moments, there’s inventive, infectious songs, like the dissonant fuzz of “A Room Where Your Paintings Hung.” All Alone In An Empty House is a confident and convincing statement for a band just getting started. It’s not an easy balance they’re trying to strike here, but they do it well, and in doing so give us an album that, despite distinct elements, can’t fall into one clear genre. But no matter what you call it — folk, neo-folk, neo-classical-folk — this album is awfully good.