Rarely does an album’s cover so precisely match the music contained within: a horse in peak piaffe on Biddle Street, branches piercing brick facades, leaves tilted just enough to suggest a rolling bluster, the once mighty homes slowly being reclaimed by nature, a single street lamp just barely confining the image to time. Its lack of color is the vine from which its riches stem; such stark contrast and halting blur provide access to spaces that no overload of colors and pixels could open.
Such is the nature of Tongue of Silver. This project traffics in the same lane as most latter-day Earth and Om releases. It languidly unfolds textbook rock changes, lands heavy chords on downbeats and the slow, cinematic rhythms yield ample space for the drums to ring out. The kick sound is pretty amazing, with plenty of oomph and the perfect fat slap that only a large room can deliver.
The instrumentation is simple: guitar, bass, drums, the occasional Hammond organ, pedal steel taken as needed. There are no lyrics. “351W” serves as a mid album palette cleanser, a passage of undulating drone that appears as colorless as entering a long tunnel on an interminable day drive compete with ghosts of guitar lines and Hammond shudder, but soon after we find ourselves back in the room/on the road with the dense blues of “Cauliflower,” complete with twisting arpeggio runs and bends that would make J or Jimi crack a knowing smile.
It’s wild, stark and wise, unopposed to overwhelming, unafraid to expose it’s neck, paring down to quiet and building up otherworldly climaxes. Check “Journey to the East”: three guitar notes punctuate the initial emptiness, a not-quite-slow groove in six takes stride and the band proceeds to build to one climax after another, flooding power tubes and synapses before burning back out into the that smacking kick sound and spare guitar note triptych with a quiet pedal steel looking down like a ghost.
It’s a tremendous coup, in a way: lyric-less rock can leave you so dry, but through careful arrangement and fastidious assembly, this thing’s a page turner front to back, causing you to look down at your feet as you traverse the dust, only to pick up a silver thread and trace it over the mountains to find out it leads up and into the sky, and you just stand there in the rarefied air, squinting in the silver haze, covered in the dust, gingerly giving it a tug and hoping your feet leave the ground.