The album title refers to a Japanese folk story that the group conveys in two tracks. "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" describes with joyful innocence the gentle nurturing of a wounded crane then morphs into a more somber narrative of marriage, routine and poverty. "The Crane Wife 3" is less literal; instead, Meloy hints at his narrator's distrust and discovery of the crane's secret with a graceful "And I will hang my head, hang my head low" that simultaneously captures the beauty and tragedy of the original tale.
That expressive storytelling is Meloy's strength. He even turns a warning about gruesome Irish serial killers into a convincing lullaby ("Shankill Butchers"). On "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)," singer-songwriter Laura Veirs's voice so casually flirts and harmonizes with Meloy's that their dialogue (between a dead Civil War soldier and his sweetheart) seems tender and believable, reinforcing the dramatic narratives that underscore this stunning album.
-- Catherine P. Lewis