The Portland Cello Project kicks off The Thao & Justin Power Sessions with a cover of a John Tavener song, leading right into a typically Nico-esque vocal cameo by Thao Nguyen. It’s a good sign. That they blend the spiritual with the dark and mysterious is fitting, since the cello is one of the few instruments that can evoke the infinite and the heartbreakingly local within the same line. The album is quite the emotional workout, but the Portland Cello Project isn’t afraid to rock, nor to mix some distortion into its transcendental brew.
Thao Nguyen and Justin Power contribute vocals to songs they brought with them to the sessions, with Powers’ tracks (especially “Hungry Liars” and “Cut the Rope”) being among the more up-tempo and edgy. Nguyen breezes through several songs, with “Beat (Health, Life & Fire)” being the most remarkable. There are four other, more stricly cello-driven songs as well, including a cover of Pantera’s “Mouth for War.” Yeah, it works.
The 16 classically trained cellists that form the Portland Cello Project have performed in a variety of settings, including punk clubs. Their generous ear for music of all kinds and the ability to draw the deepest emotion (with humor) from it is helping them create a signature sound and career. The Thao & Justin Power Sessions should serve as an introduction to the ensemble, and it should only further open your own ears.