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CD REVIEW: Colonies in the Wild Frontier by Spitzer Space Telescope

The second full length collection of songs from singer/songwriter and visual artist Dan MacDonald, working under the moniker Spitzer Space Telescope, isn’t an album. It’s an app for your phone. Colonies in the Wild Frontier features eight dazzling folk songs alongside a variety of videos featuring different performances of the base eight songs and assorted other videos focusing on different subjects and dramatizations to select from. Photos and other features are included with the app. It’s a virtuoso performance for the modern age that lays out a number of ambitious goals for itself and arguably meets them all, but the central reason behind its presentation is the desire to establish some new path going forward where musical artists can expand their canvas and find new ways of reaching their potential audience.

The base eight songs are outstanding performances in their own right. Everything else is just some pretty damn dazzling gravy. The first song, “99 Years Holler”, has many antecedents in American folk music history that will sound quite familiar to many listeners, but MacDonald’s performances and his lyrics own any style they touch. He blasts through the lyric, not without nuance, but with full control of his technique and burning emotion behind every line. “Corn Holler” comes from the same traditions in American folk music, but MacDonald uses a fiddle for accompaniment here instead of the clapping and foot stomping giving him a backbeat in “99 Years Holler”. There’s a harsher, shriller edge to this, a sense MacDonald is throwing himself headlong into the track and you can’t help but be impressed by his willingness to so fully embody the song’s character. He touches on another common theme in American folk music history with the song “Poor Soldier” and it has a lot of the same bluesy, despairing wail that defined the vocal on “99 Years Holler”.

“In My Garden Grows a Mound” is one of the most beautifully wrought and darkest compositions on Colonies in the Wild Frontier. The roots of a song like this are decidedly not American and its poetic virtues are impossible to ignore. Its meter is outstanding, there’s specific imagery laden throughout the lyrics, and there’s an unity of movement through the narrative that’s capped off by the dramatizing power of his voice. It joins “Ballad of a Young Cursed Fool” as the finest songs on the album, but definitely the most intense. The latter songs share many of the same literary qualities, but MacDonald’s spine-chilling vocal will haunt your dreams. “Struggle & Strife” sounds like it draws from the Appalachian school of American folk and takes on the trials of being a woman for its subject matter, recalling folk standards like “The Wagoner’s Lad” in spirit. In whatever form it takes, this is a devastating collection of songs that draw from traditional sources while infusing them with MacDonald’s own distinctive touch. Spitzer Space Telescope has raised the bar for what a song collection can be and MacDonald has accomplished the feat with the most traditional music imaginable.

I-TUNES: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/colonies-in-the-wild-frontier/id1078507117?mt=8

by Scott Wigley

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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