Coyote Run: Ten and One Half

Coyote Run, Ten and One HalfI never before understood the fervent passion of fans who have been following a band from their early days, long before they exploded onto the larger “scene”. Now I do, with Coyote Run at least. In the past ten years, their work has grown steadily more sophisticated and complex, without losing their ability to belt out surprisingly raw passion.

A few months ago, Coyote Run released a ten year retrospective album, which showcased the very development I mentioned above. Not satisfied with that massive compilation, however, they opted to release a follow-up CD, Ten and One Half. Why? Well, judging by the small text that flows across the cover of the album, it’s becoming common practice for artists to release mini-albums like this, with only three to five songs. That’s one reason, anyway; a bigger one is that none of the five songs on this CD are on any of the existing albums, and as the cover says, “[T]hough we like the artistic breadth of an LP-length recording, we really couldn’t wait. We’re excited about these five songs right now.”

After listening to this CD, I’m very glad they made the decision to release this half-sized collection. It packs immense punch, starting with the potent beginning song, “Beltane Fires”, and ending with the equally intense “Invictus”.

“Beltane Fires” features Doug Bischoff on didgeridoo, Catherine Hauke’s steady hand on drums, David Doersch as lead vocalist, Chelle Fulk on fiddle, and Michael Kazalski on guitar. But that list doesn’t really tell you anything, so let me try again. The song begins with a simple, steady drumbeat; then the didge begins to drone, followed by a rhythmic, repetitive chant; some sort of flute or fife layers in on top of that. Then comes the fiddle, brightening the lugubrious beginning. David Doersch comes in next, his voice clear and crisp in the foreground even as each element behind him remains equally clear. The power and tempo builds throughout, until at last Catherine Hauke breaks loose on drums and the mournfulness disappears completely; this becomes a song of rejoicing and celebration. Chelle Fulk’s fiddle soars into the foreground at several points, as does the fife, lending an ethereal note to the rougher elements.

The only criticism I have of this song–indeed, of the entire album–is that occasionally Doersch’s voice sounds a touch on the muddy side, possibly overwhelmed by his companions or perhaps just missing crispness in favor of speed. That’s a very, very small nitpick, however, and the songs are all strong enough to withstand such tiny complaints.

Next up comes “Battle of the Kings”, a playful, swinging song that practically demands that listeners get up and dance. It reminds me of their take on “The Battle of New Orleans”, another of their perennial audience-pleasers, and showcases an elegant ability to handle “big band” sound with a small group of performers.

The next song, “Animalia”, is a complete departure from their usual style–at first, it sounds remarkably like a Coyote Run take on a remake of the original Conan the Barbarian movie soundtrack. About halfway through, electric guitar kicks in and briefly leans the feel towards Coyote Run’s version of a Ronnie James Dio song. Then bagpipes and trumpets bring the whole thing back around to a rather Lord of the Rings soundtrack feel for the closing crescendo. As bizarre as all that sounds, it truly works; I listened with my mouth hanging open in shock, then replayed it…and again…and again. I think this one might just turn out to be one of my favorite “energizing” songs, even higher on my list than “Tiger, Tiger” or “Queen of Argyll”.

Talk about showing range: the next song, “Miner’s Medley”, dumps the listener straight into the coal mines with a cheery mixture of “Evening Sun”, “Coal Town Road”, and “Chemical Worker’s Song”. Based almost wholly around vocals and drums, this song showcases the band’s ability to sing in harmony and individually, and gives listeners a chance to hear vocal nuances often overshadowed by the background instruments. It’s another complete departure from their usual style, and a fantastic addition to their repertoire.

Remember I mentioned Dio above? The closing song, “Invictus”, comes straight from the rockin’ eighties and is something Ronnie probably would have been proud to pen. From the strident, repetitive guitar chords to the dramatic lyrics (“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”), this composition by Michael Kazalski is the wildest departure from the usual Coyote Run style yet. While listening to “Invictus”, I could almost see the light show and pyrotechnics circling the stage–it’s a song well-suited to a big amphitheater performance. As a child of the eighties, I love this sort of music, and I loved this song, but I suspect that more Celtic-dedicated fans will be highly irritated by it.

In summary, this is an album well worth picking up for diehard fans and new listeners alike; it features a remarkably broad range of performance styles, and is a tantalizing glimpse into what to expect over the next few years. You might not like every song on this mini-album, but you’re sure to thoroughly enjoy at least one enough to put it on your regular playlist. It’s also quite likely that after listening to these songs, you’ll look up the band’s schedule in order to catch their next live performance; and that’s the best recommendation I can possibly give to any album.

(Run Wild Records, 2011)

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