Knotworking – The Garden Below

The Garden Below

The third album from the Woodstock, NY, band Knotworking is a breezy ride through an acoustic folk landscape. Singer-songwriter Ed Gorch isn’t breaking any stylistic ground, but he’s got a unique voice (both literally and figuratively) that keeps the sound fresh and interesting. The best move on this effort is the addition of two strings players, Karen Codd on cello and Megan Prokorym on violin and mandolin. They join singer-guitarists Gorch and Michael Hotter, plus a rotation of different bassists and drummers, and their strings more than anything else on the album chart an agile path through the country, folk, rock, and even (occasionally) Celtic backdrops that frame Gorch’s melancholy lyrics.
This is lazy, low-key, front-porch music, but it rarely bores, thanks to both the aforementioned strings and also to Gorch, whose voice at times calls to mind Cat Stevens. He sings in a spidery, cracked voice, making the most of a limited range, and just off-kilter enough to avoid having his sad songs turn maudlin. The production by the band and sometime bassist Frank Moscowitz is crystal clear, allowing all the trebles of the vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar leads plenty of room to be heard. The rhythm section for the most part rolls along and stays out of the way. If anything, it’s a little too much, maybe highlighting a need for someone who can sing a low harmony to provide counterpoint to Gorch’s voice, but Hotter and Codd mostly sing quietly and in the same range, which can get to be a little much after a while.
While Hotter does electrify a few of the songs, this is mostly an acoustic album, and that provides a lot of its appeal and sets it apart from the alt-country masses (there’s no barroom, “Casino Queen”-type numbers here). The most energetic track is “Blossom,” and appealing pop song that would be a perfect single for a good college radio station if there were all that many around anymore. Gorch, as the main songwriter, stays firmly in sensitive singer-songwriter territory without ever sounding like a James Taylor wannabe. What he wants, it seems, is innocence, and the effect is appealing: he’s “had enough of callous hearts,” he sings (on “Callous Hearts”), and, hey, who hasn’t? The standout for me is the opening song, “When We Were Small.” The violin and cello rise and fall under a gorgeous melody and regretful lyrics about a lost relationship or friendship. Gorch sings, “Maybe I could make excuses, but I know it’s not my fault / Or maybe I could make you laugh, like I did when we were small” (again with the innocence).
The pace of this album, like the words, is thoughtful and careful throughout, but the winning melodies and arrangements never fail to draw the listener back in. Knotworking has produced sparkling, quiet masterpiece, and the band shows they have the agility to branch off into new directions on future records.