album reviews

The Decemberists
The Crane Wife
Capitol Records (2006)

Indie-rock darlings the Decemberists have handled their shift to a major label with refreshing grace: The lush instrumentation and theatrical nature of their songs have not been abandoned, but merely refined. "The Crane Wife," the group's first album for Capitol and fourth overall, relates tales of the same cast of characters that have always invaded frontman Colin Meloy's lyrics: soldiers, murderers and tortured young lovers.

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

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 27 October 2006, Page WE12
.: The Crane Wife on