This is a very very strange album, but I'm going to try my best to give a whirl at reviewing it. As you may know, Petra Haden is perhaps best known for her role in the now-defunct (unfortunately) band That Dog. In addition to playing with that group, she's also done time playing on albums for the Rentals and several other bands in addition to working on a solo album of her own.
Perhaps wanting to try out a collaborative role before she got too into the solo act, Haden really shines on this release with her violin playing. In fact, it's really the backbone of the entire album, as it makes an appearence on every song, while other instruments like a mandolin, piano, and accordian make their way into the mix as well. Not only that, but there are rarely vocals on the album, and when they do arrive, it's more in the form of simply another textured layer (oohs and aahs) to the songs than to tell a story.
The music itself is all over the place. Sometimes it sounds like a couple people going wacky on instruments at a ren fair, while at other times it's ethereal and beautiful. The disc opens up with sort of a medieval-sounding track fittingly titled "King Of Swords." With a deep accordian playing out underneath the pretty violin, it has sort of a solemn air about it. Although the same instruments are in place on the very next track, it takes a whole different approach and instead sounds like something that the Rachels might do on a day that they were feeling a little more happy.
"Duet For Vox (Fancy)" goes an entirely different route and strips things down to only layered vocals by the duo. Of course, they each have about 3 tracks going at the same time, but it makes the track into a pretty, madrigal-type of track, even if they don't ever say anything intelligible. Adding only a piano to the light vocals, they take the track "Lullabye For James" into almost a ghostly realm. Although it's the shortest track on the disc, it's quite possibly the most beautiful as well. On the ninth track "Hour Glass," the group adds something that doesn't fall into any other track on the release; percussion. With sort of a strutting trip-hop beat behind the vocal/violin/accordian combo, it gives things another dimension that almost makes everything else seem flat by comparison.
Overally, it's sort of a strange album, but I have to admit that the duo does quite a bit with the few instruments that they have and very little percussion. It helps that both the singers have great voices, and I can't wait to hear more from them in the future, even if they're not working together.