27 Apr 2015

Sarada Holt "Dorothy's Ghost"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Perhaps best known for her long time association and exquisite vocal work with Pennsylvania's Stone Breath, Sarada Holt should be considered one of the foremost singers in the current psych folk scene. Here, the ever splendid Reverb Worship label has uncovered some hidden treasure indeed, a collection of 4 track recordings that Sarada completed between 1998 and 1999. For historical value alone these are absolutely essential but they are also on their own terms a series of gentle, graceful gems and twisted acid folk wonders that deserve to be widely heard and deeply appreciated.

The recordings by their very nature are lo-fi (and were recorded in Sarada's living room)but this only adds to their charm and the sense of discovering a long lost privately pressed psych classic, perhaps on the 'Sunbeam' or 'Kissing Spell' labels. 'Recurring Dreams' begins with some delicate Nick Drake style fingerpicking before Sarada's familiar voice lullabyes through a haze of echo and lysergic dream landscapes. Eerie certainly but also reassuring, Sarada's voice has a quality that can be at once betwitching and yet also unearthly and unsettling. For fans of Stone Breath's 'The Silver Skein Unwound ' or 'Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis' this is a must. 'Stars In My Sky' is an acoustic incantation, utterly entrancing and with a delicate power all of its own with Sarada's vocals layered and reverbed to haunting effect. 'Phantasmagoria In Two' is an album highlight, a ghostly lament over simple yet effective picked guitar, Sarada's vocals both spectral and melancholy. It must be noted that everything on this album is a solo effort, Sarada playing both acoustic and electric guitars as well as banjo, hand drums and sound effects. This is one person's unique vision and the album's highly intimate feel draws the listener closer still; it is not unlike being in the same room as the singer herself. 'To The Eels' is a flanged, psychedelic piece of acid drenched folk that would not be out of place on the soundtrack of Jonathan Miller's 'Alice In Wonderland', the refrain of 'Let's take them to the river and sacrifice them to the eels' creating a disturbing and surreal finale. A cover of Nick Drake's 'At The Chime Of A City Clock' is a thing of beauty indeed, sadness and smoky autumn days almost seeping through the song. Next, 'The Snow Maiden's banjo and hand drum creates a ritualistic air, the sense of rural horror evident in the dark fairy-tale lyrics and Sarada's dramatic performance. This is proper folk, black as night, foreboding and cautionary. 'Night Terrors' electric guitars reverberate and scream through the gloom, pulsating electronics creating a disorientating but welcoming backdrop that reminds this listener of The Legendary Pink Dots at their finest. Finally, 'The Pumpkin Effigy' is a spooked folk nursery rhyme with a definite hint of Stone Breath, Sarada's witch vocals filled with dread and tension. It is a fitting and emotive end to this most special and spooked album.

Make no mistake, this is is a home recording so do not look for glossy studio quality sheen here; in fact it would not fit and suit these quiet, cobwebbed songs nearly as well as the existing delicate mist that only adds to the wraith like air around this recording. This album will leave you spellbound and captivated, let 'Dorothy's Ghost' haunt you.

Available here in limited quantities with a beautiful haunted painting by Sarada herself gracing the cover. 

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