Ste. Genevieve native, occasional St. Louisan and current resident of Berlin Ian Fisher has logged many miles and songs on both sides of the Atlantic in the past few years. He tours regularly around Europe, has recorded a handful of albums under various guises and still makes time to visit the motherland a few times a year (he'll perform an album-release show this Thursday at Off Broadway). His latest record comes under the aegis of Ian Fisher & the Present, and he's backed by the unobtrusive harmony and guitar accompaniment of local musician Ryan Thomas Carpenter (and little else) on this acoustic album. The duo decamped to Ste. Genevieve to record in a tiny cabin on the family farm. The "cabin in the woods" story may smack of Bon Iver-ian mythmaking, but the aesthetic comes across as appropriately stripped down: Chiming acoustic guitars and close-up vocals make up the arsenal here. Folk music needs little else, after all, and these are folk songs informed by a pretty wide swath of the Great Americana Songbook.
Song titles like "Regret," "Doubt" and "Fear" give a fair impression of where this album's heart lies — somewhere between love and oblivion, and with a few tire treads worn in the cleft. The deftly picked "Rotted on the Vine" looks evenly at self-doubt, and opening track "Change of Heart" starts the album with a rich, fluttering pulse. Some creeping existential dread drives "Fear," which borrows nicely from a Good Friday hymn and skirts the edges of melodrama but retreats with some heavenly harmonies. (No one gets crucified this time, either.) You'd hope Fisher's worldliness and globetrotting would push him past the bedroom vitriol of "A Year and a Little Change," but the jilted rage serves to quicken the tempo of a largely ruminative record. The inherently Spartan nature of the recordings keeps the album a tad too monochromatic, but the backing vocals on a track like "Regret" hint at a bigger tapestry that the two musicians can create.