Boomkat Product Review:
STUNNNNNING re-issue of American psaltry master and folk troubadour Dorothy Carter's 1978 masterpiece 'Waillee Waillee, a joint release between Palto Flats & Putojefe Records. A Laraaji and Neubauten collaborator who set a new standard at the intersection of medieval music revival and psych folk, Carter infused her research into Celtic and Appalachian traditions with a giddy avant-garde fwd motion, reaching ethereal heights that are a total revalation Unreal, honestly - imagine Michael O'Shea, Karen Dalton and Laraaji making a folk album and yr halfway there.
Regularly changing hands for mad $$$, 'Waillee Waillee' was a private press LP originally issued on Carter's own imprint Celeste, named after her daughter. It was her second album, following 1976's 'Troubadour', and smoothly maps out her interests in ancient folk forms and new age minimalism. Carter studied piano early in her life, and took this training through the academic world, moving from New York, to London and then France. When she wrote 'Waillee Waillee' she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, alongside her regular collaborator and dear friend Bob Rutman, who performs on the album using his sound sculptures, such as a steel cello and a bow chime. Carter had been a part of Rutman's avant-garde troupe Central Maine Power Music Company, and his influence and friendship is a crucial part of 'Waillee Waillee' - the master tapes were even rescued from his Berlin studio.
Listening now, it's hard to escape the distinctive magic that Carter manages to liberally disperse in her compositions. Her expertise with instruments from the psalterium family - like the hammered dulcimer and the zither - lends the music its historical weight, but it's not just an exercise in revivalism or revisionism. Carter was incredibly literate in a variety of musical forms and practices, from baroque classical music and medieval court sounds to Celtic folk and Hindustani vocal expressions, and brought all of this knowledge into her work. On the opening track 'The Squirrel is a Funny Thing...' she spins rhythmic hammered twangs into cryptic, ornamental passages, singing with spirit and lapping her phrases over the bars with impulsive, knowing eccentricity. Carter forms her words into a near mantra, simultaneously referencing Medieval configurations, sounding like a bard and a priest at once.
On 'Along the River', she plays flute against a backdrop of oddly-tuned zither plucks and strums, bending the notes along her creative ley lines until they shimmer into a state of atemporal bliss. Her voice only emerges in the track's final third, and sounds like angel song: self-assured but feral somehow; passionate and prophetic. Then there's the elaborate patchwork 'Summer Rhapsody', a seven-minute gust of ancient woodwind wails, seismic drones and celestial strings that vibrate across time and contour; it's not specifically folk music or specifically medieval, nor is it floaty new age meditation fodder. Carter's bringing us into a distinctive, idiosyncratic place that feels like a precursor to the wave of New Weird America gear that emerged in the early 2000s, or the more recent era-fluxing experimentations of artists like Laura Cannell.
She leans more fondly into European silhouettes on 'Celtic Medley', transferring sounds we might recognize from Gaelic and Brythonic folk music into a subtly different template to highlight the shared DNA between the Celtic world and traditional American forms - like bluegrass and country. In Carter's hands, the sounds are lifted to the heavens, blurred in the bright sunlight and rescued from the annals history. It's hardly surprising that she was such a formative influence for Laraaji, who contributes to this reissue's liner notes. 'Waillee Waillee' is the first reissue of Carter's music, and comes bundled with a 12-page booklet featuring excerpts of her manuscripts on the history of the dulcimer family of instruments, alongside drawings, images and sheet music. It's an overwhelming package, shining a spotlight on and artist who's had an outsized but often unseen influence on so much of what we appreciate today. Highest possible recommendation.