By: Kevin Renard
First and foremost, as my first review I want to define what my goal here is so it isn’t convoluted or anything. I don’t like the modern connotation of what music reviews are, but also I get why they exist, it’s just my opinion. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable or just in trying to boil it down to some sort of grade based on some sort undefined but accepted criteria, for any number of reasons. This isn’t brand new music either, but as someone who was impressed enough by a recent (and brief) performance by Black Haw Shake (Claudia Gaudino) to genuinely want to write this “review”, I consider it worth it to try and see if someone else might enjoy this music too based on my personal experience of it.
One of the very first things that struck me in listening to this music is its sense of scale and setting as somewhat unexpected. Black Haw Shake is simply a beautiful voice and a banjo, and combines folk and gothic imagery that shows how they fit well together, and in some instances maybe even overlap. As far as people consider Americana, I don’t think Florida is the state that best fits the bill of the ideals and tradition that’s inherently behind the very word. And in singing of snow and mountains it’s plain that not only in genre but to an extent in lyrics the music of Black Haw Shake is not only beyond Gainesville but beyond Florida too to some extent.
I don’t know why, but folk music with haunting themes and motifs that also is from Gainesville is exactly something I connected with. As someone who has lived in Florida for the lion’s share of my life, but has made trips to the Appalachian states and out west, Gaudino manifested a very specific but beautiful feeling that I identify as separate from Florida. I wouldn’t expect everyone to feel that way, but I like knowing the difference, and knowing that there’s always more than whatever is in Florida in a way I think Gainesville was important in providing.
Hopefully that doesn’t come off like the stereotypical “I hate my town” trope that’s overplayed (especially in Florida), because that’s not my feeling and I don’t think it’s Gaudino’s either. Maybe you’re more familiar with the sounds and themes in this music than I, that’s fine. As far as contemporary singer-songwriter acts go, I definitely wouldn’t consider bone-chilling folk to be a well-beaten horse— especially after whatever Mumford and Sons et al. did to folk-inspired music, I don’t think an excess of artists were voluntarily grabbing their banjoes after that.
Hidden under a layer of dark imagery are subjects that can hit home for everyone; the songs on the album cover a wide and personal range of emotions revolving around relationships and love. To a lot of people, that’s probably become about standard or expected to the point where it might not be as interesting (which is crazy to think about), but Gaudino does well by keeping it visceral and raw with the haunting intersection of folk and gothic with talk of crucifixion and resurrection, skeletons and rattling bones; and loading her words with power, like in the song “Feral” in painful alliteration.
All in all, I wouldn’t blame you if this album isn’t for you, it isn’t trying to be to begin with. But if you’re interested, I personally think there’s something powerful to be felt in Claudia Gaudino’s modest project. Her music can be found at https://blackhawshake.bandcamp.com/releases or if you’re lucky, you might be able to pick up one of her CDs.
Links & Credits:
Released May 1, 2015
Serg Witis: Recording