The long-awaited Spine is the band's most emotionally charged and ground-breaking effort to date. Recorded by famed alternative rock producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant), Spine demonstrates an ear for the common ground between American traditionalmusic and the hard-edged savvy of the best contemporary rock. The songs on SPINE have things in common and they've all been around for awhile, one way or another. There's nothing written in stone about how they should be. Without imagination, they're dead leaves, dry bones suitable for cataloguing and storage.
Like Comet, Spine shows the hardcore acoustic, traditional American side of Cordelia's Dad. From the "big band," guitar-strumming sound of Granite Mills to the minimalist Knife, from the rockin' fiddle tunes, to the wall-of-sound unaccompanied singing of Wake Up, this is the full range of the band as it existed without electricity at the end of the 20th Century.
“One of the impressive things about this record is that it doesn't sound as if it's trying to be impressive. Too many young bands, excited by this 'new' music they've discovered (and particularly by its potential for dramatic and emotional expression) tend to go over the top with technical virtuosity and studio effects - smothering the very things they found so appealing in gloss and ardency. Here, on the other hand, the overall feeling is one of calm, with more than a hint of brooding darkness behind it. Listen to Cathy Oss on Knife (sound clip) - a far cry from the raffish treatment of a very similar text I heard from Bill Whiting of Longcot, Oxon, some 25 years ago.
The playing, throughout, is noticeably restrained - thoughtful almost - though flashes here and there make it clear that the band can do the clever stuff when they feel it's needed. Perhaps the only example of overt virtuosity occurs in Le Reel a Neuf set from Quebecois fiddler Louis Boudreault. Here, a very impressive bit of frame drum playing pushes the tune from centre-stage at times, and will probably become annoying after repeated listening - but this is one small fault in almost an hour of music.
Tim Erikson is not only an impressive singer, but a fine one too, and his version of Three Babes (AKA The Cruel Mother) is probably the CD's most memorable track at first hearing (sound clip). He's also a damned good banjo player, without seeing the need to be flashy, and works beautifully with fiddler Laura Risk on Dwight Diller's Abe's Retreat (sound clip), and elsewhere.
There's too much here which is good to give a detailed appraisal of it all, but I'd like to conclude with a mention of a couple of the religious songs on the record - another way in which Spine marks itself as an unusual contender in a market aimed primarily at the younger listener. Pilgrim is "a depiction of a soul homesick for heaven", and is of English origin. Erikson and Oss (I think) make a great job of it, spinning out the long, slow tune with care, style and good dynamics (sound clip - sorry it's a big file, but less than a complete verse would be ridiculous). The record ends with Return Again, a shape-note Sacred Harp hymn with the whole band singing to fiddle back-up (sound clip) - and a fine way to finish it is too!
– The Magazine for Traditional Music throughout the world
"You may have been on the planet Mars for the past few years, but there are few other bands to match the potential and scope of Cordelia's Dad...Absolutely fabulous. THE band to catch"
- First Hearing (Manchester England)
"ploughing a unique furrow" - FolkRoots (London)
"tastefully heavy" - Chicago Tribune
"Those harmonies are scandalous" - Dwight Diller
"exquisite and ominous" - Columbus Dispatch "There's no affected lack of sophistication or fawning respect in the music. The band members just play, and they don't hold back"- Chapel Hill News "most exhilarating....fiercely performed" - Hartford Courant "Incredible!"- TimeOUT (London) "revitalize these songs of love and death with passion, taste and talent"
-All Things Considered