By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Were you to judge the record by its cover, you could be forgiven for thinking Tarras' debut was a promotional photo for some TV show competing with Dawson's Creek for the attention of today's teenyboppers: The album features four guys and a girl, all stunningly cute and well-dressed.
In reality, however, Tarras is an English folk band.
To be sure, they're young. Emma Hancock is 16, Rob Armstrong 26 and the others 21, and they don't go around playing as if they're much older, either. The music they play has its roots in traditional music, which they use as a springboard, but Tarras does not sound like any other folk group you've heard.
Instrumentation alone makes them unique. Armstrong plays cittern, a high-pitched stringed instrument that's a near-constant in the group's sound. Jon Redfern adds percussion, usually on congo drums, and Joss Clapp picks out driving, acoustic bass lines. Throw in Ben Murray's accordion and Hancock's violin, and you hear the most immediate connection to the folk revivalists of the last few generations. But Hancock plays her violin in a different style than any other fiddler with a foot in the classic dance tunes of yore. A child prodigy in the classical world, her fingering and technical skills caress the most energetic melodies, bringing a genuinely affecting lightness to the band. Spurred on by Murray's accordion counterpoint, Hancock dominates the Tarras sound and, ironically, completes the group's originality with its most traditional instrument.
Tarras' prodigiousness on instruments isn't enough, though; in addition to dipping into the deep well of English and Scottish folk tunes, they write their own (they do so beautifully) and melodic ideas abound. Themes fly from instrument to instrument, and new ones juxtapose themselves against the previous ones with graceful enthusiasm. "Whiskey Town" is a gem, with a great tag line for a hook: "But you fell down/in a whiskey town/where the rain gets drunk/before it hits the ground."