Monday, January 14, 2013

The High Crest Releases First CD, Self-Titled

The High Crest hosted an album release concert Sunday night at the Grapevine, in Clive. It was a celebration on several fronts - the culmination of almost a decade of living together, writing music, playing live performances, and learning each other's nuances and musical quirks. It was the celebration of years and years of collective work which has finally reached that pinnacle moment when all the right cogs have fallen into place that allowed this couple to produce a live recording.

Photo inside the High Crest's self titled CD , taken by Roger Feldhans
(Click to enlarge)

The High Crest have been doing their thing since 2006. I guess that amazes me, as I just caught wind of their live act in early 2011. I was working at the now defunct Timothy's Steakhouse at the time. While this restaurant's tenure was short-lived, it had one of the most amazing lounge areas in town. Encompassed in walls of solid walnut, exquisite glass chandeliers, and a fireplace for added ambiance, this bar had more of a back woods feel to it than it did an urban steakhouse. But it featured live acoustic music on a weekly basis, and some of Des Moines' finest musicians made their way into that lounge. After getting off of work one night, I wandered out into the bar and caught the beautiful sounds of two acoustic guitars feeding off of each other with an incredible tightness. A woman's voice soared above the hushed crowd in distinct harmony with the guitars, and for a moment I was mesmerized. I actually paused before walking into the room as if not to break the spell.

The voice I heard was that of Kat Darling. With her husband Aaron Short, they are the High Crest, one of Des Moines' most talented duos, the creators of a genre they coined, "Folk and Roll." 

The High Crest's self titled CD is a treasure. The songs, beautifully written are stories put to music, much the way Marty Robbins wrote his songs, only in a more modern, less western setting. The songs speak of heartache and success, late payments on mortgages, hangovers and all those other aspects of life that affect each and every one of us. From the High Crest's point of view these songs seem to come easy... While you and I might struggle putting our trials and personal situations on paper, it seems a natural unfolding for Kat and Aaron.  Wrapped in their separate vocal experiences as well as life’s experiences together, their songs contain left-handed lyrics with fable-style endings. The songs encompass the many faces of yearning and lessons learned, usually the hard way, most of the time without a previous glimpse of reliance or hope. The songs are lyrical hints at our feeble mortality, and an optimistic reminder that the tide often turns in one's favor, such as in Kat's "Self Loathing Sin." This song, like many of Kat's, hearkens a sound that resembles a far away place -- perfectly suited for a Nashville music hall.

The High Crest at the Grapevine in Clive at their CD release party

That being noted, the CD also has grit. Each track is laced with Aaron's intricate guitar picking that seems to weave itself in and out of the lyrics with perfect precision. He picks the acoustic strings almost to their breaking point as he hits his notes, and Kat, whether she is playing guitar alongside him, or snapping on the hand drum, has the natural balance to make the song complete. 

Aaron is an accomplished harmonica player in the Dylan/Young tradition (playing guitar and harmonica simultaneously), with an intensity not usually heard within the folk tradition. The song "Belong" is an excellent example of this. He blows into his harp with exact precision, and with the fervor of a southern rocker. This song is one of the most hard hitting on the album and it's noteworthy because it drives home a hard lesson: When we get so caught up in our every day lives that we forget the small things, do we really belong?

Another hard hitting song during the performance (and on the CD) is Kat's  "Light and Time," a song she wrote after her mother passed away. The High Crest opened the second set with this incredible tribute, and the audience was ill-prepared for it. It was so beautifully played, and sung so masterfully that there was hardly a dry eye in the audience. As she sang this song, I marveled at how she was able to keep her composure. As Kat notes in this song, "There are forces bigger than you and me." Again, lesson learned.

Kat and Aaron  play at the Grapevine (Click to enlarge)

Thankfully the next song they played brought us back around. "120" is a tribute to her father, but in a different sense. It's a story about her father, and a race he was involved in with his Mustang against a Dodge Charger. It's a play by play analysis of that event, and like the event itself, the song is a fun and fast ride. This is a catchy tune, and if you are not careful, it will be playing over and over in your head for days. It's definitely a highlight of the CD, but then again, almost every song meets that criteria. Every track on this record has it's own personality, and whether it's being listened to on an audio recording or at a live event, each song is as good or better than the one before it.

Together, The High Crest's songs are packed with the kind of bare-knuckle emotion that makes it hard to separate the crying from the laughter. Their presence in the local music scene was been established, and it's only a matter of time before this musical couple starts making waves elsewhere. It would be a great pleasure to turn on Austin City Limits one night and find them in the national spotlight. 

And it wouldn't be surprising at all.


Written by Troy Church with help from Sarah Cartwright. (Thank you Sarah!)

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