Colored Over documents the initial recordings from Vinesines, the collaboration of cellist/vocalist Emmalee Hunnicutt and guitarist/vocalist Ben Hjertmann. These songs were all improvised in the studio in 2019. Not that you would know: the songs might be quizzical, cryptical, but they’re always linear. The lyrics are conceived in terms of story, while the guitar and cello music is conceived in terms of line. These songs are tales that start someplace and go someplace else.
The stories range from the quotidian (“Chores”) to the mythic (“Tin Crow, He Slayed a Dragon”), but less often purely imagistic (“Spectral Dusts of Dancing”), rarely resting on repetition or focusing on textural color. You might be reminded of the elliptical cello plucking of Arthur Russell, the vocal ornamentation of Josephine Foster, the fractured song forms of the Dirty Projectors; or perhaps the closest precedent is the extemporaneous folk dirges of Songs: Ohia’s Protection Spells. By the time you reach the dark-forest tones of “Jackson Hole,” it’s clear you’re hearing a contemporary bardic revival, an echo of a time when singing and storytelling were inseparable, when poetry was oral and composition meant a spontaneous drawing-together of elements from innumerable stories heard in the past.
Free improvisation is usually associated with coloring outside the lines. This music, it IS the lines. The question for the listener: what exactly are they drawing? These two are like the couple in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, crossing the dangerous countryside on foot, two Arthurian veterans who have forgotten their past deeds of magic, swordplay and gallantry. But they’re trying to remember.
Like much contemporary improvisation this music is full of mysterious gates. The difference is that here the gates are all open. All you have to do is walk on through. All you need is your own curiosity. You’ll recall the rest soon enough.