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Turnsole - Little Boys and Black Dogs (Turnsole)

Turnsole - Little Boys and Black Dogs
8 November 2016

I like concept LPs based on historical events; their third person perspectives on happenings from past eras can push songwriters out of established comfort zones. Take Ohio’s Eric Bates, also a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violinist and ex-Fillmore’s Therapy frontman. The echoed, East River Pipe-evoking bedroom recordings on his one-man Turnsole’s self-titled, early 2016 debut are more defiantly delivered on this way different follow-up, which he describes as an “abstract look” at the life of France’s tragic teen Joan of Arc (1412-31). As Bates recounts on his website’s blog, he developed an obsession with Joan – also known as Jehanne or “Jehanette” – after watching Luc Besson’s 1999 film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (which starred Milla Jovovich as Joan), and then reading two books about her: Mary Gordon’s Joan of Arc: A Life and the William Trask-translated Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words. Like Gordon’s book, he says this LP “has its own interpretations, inflections, [and] personal feelings, but most importantly it’s my own unique look at how and why Jehanette has made and still makes such an impression on me.”

Bates tells Joan’s story over nine songs, three of which – the submerged “The Voices,” the shivery “The Bridge,” and the small French child-sampled “Something is Amiss” – are short instrumental interludes. On Little’s two brisk, acoustic-fueled tunes, the taut title track and techno-tinged “Oil Lamp Girl,” he mixes The Sound’s post-punk urgency (Bates even resembles that band’s late Adrian Borland) with a folk-punk fire and a Morricone-esque mood, intensifying the story’s action. But the slower songs, imagining the inner voices that inspired the young heroine, affect the most. On the opening “Sunshine Girl,” accompanied only by bubbly synth burps, he drones like a divine deity, instructing Joan where to find the mysterious hidden sword (buried behind the altar at the church of Saint Catherine in the Loire Valley, per Joan’s 1431 trial testimony) that would embolden her to lead France to battle with England during the Hundred Years’ War. Elsewhere, the solemnly sung, Smiths “Asleep”-summoning piano dirges “Crucible” and “If You Love Me” unsettle like séance-raised spirits. Finally, the heartening “Hold it High” elicits a feeling of enlightenment, as if a reincarnated Joan is returning to her old village years later to reflect on her legacy. With its Interpol “NYC”-like ambience, “Hold” crowns the LP with an illuminating radiance. (