Thieves’ Kitchen – One For Sorrow, Two For Joy (2013)

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One For Sorrow, Two For Joy is the fifth record by UK/Swedish progateers Thieves’ Kitchen, a band that’s been around since ’99 but hadn’t gotten perhaps the notice here in the States they’ve enjoyed in their local European environs. Here’s a strong bid for wider recognition.

Like other prog rock bands, Thieves’ Kitchen has gone through lineup changes — guitarist Phil Mercy is the only original member remaining — and some stylistic adjustments that coming from the fresh faces now playing a significant part in shaping the sound. At this juncture, TK has settled on a nucleus of Mercy, long-time vocalist Amy Darby and Anglagard keyboardist Thomas Johnson. As One For Sorrow is the second straight album with these key players and co-composers, the album has a consistency of purpose and a flow that’s sometime hard to achieve when the music being undertaken comprises of so many elements: folk, rock, symphonic, fusion, Canterbury…ingredients that invariably gets described in whole as prog rock, and in the classic, 70s sense.

With only a trio of permanent members who are the collective creative force behind the band, Paul Mallyon (drums) and Brad Waissman (bass) were borrowed from Sanguine Hum (who just this week issued a rather nice prog rock record of their own, Weight Of The World), since the full-time rhythm section had left the band a few years ago, and they made selective use of flute, cello and trumpet.

Darby, Johnson and Mercy are all good enough at what they do, but it’s the compositions that often take center stage on this album. Even for a record with plenty of extended instrumental passages, it’s more about the chord that follows another or the nifty turns in tempo that capture the attention more than Johnson’s organ stabs, Mercy’s fusion licks or Darby’s poetic readings. For “Deor,” Darby wraps her lyrics around twisting guitar sequences, over a organ and Mellotron bed, as the song moves around a group of related motifs, rather than standard chorus/verse/chorus/verse merry-go-round; even the guitar break has its own chord progression. It’s a strategy employed all over the album, that element of cohesiveness that holds the record together.

The longer tracks “Germaner Speedwell” and “Of Sparks and Spires” are even more episodic, the former an imposing classical/folk piece for much of the song, occasionally swelling up to a rock footing. Mercy’s guitar solo is full of dexterous chord changes and stuttering tempos, later followed by a cello and flute passage that softens the landing. On the latter epic, Paul Marks’ trumpet against a soft, symphonic backdrop suggests this song is a ballad, but crunchy bursts from guitar, organ and drums break up the softness, with the bombast jousting with the delicate piano figure. Soon, the song embarks on an extended sojourn through multiple sections that doesn’t even reach Darby’s vocal parts until nearly five minutes in. By the end of the performance, the band had traversed across one meticulously constructed piece.

The centerpiece track, in my mind at least, is “A Fool’s Journey.” Riff-heavy but full creases in rhythm and harmony, Anna Holmgren’s flute and Tove Törngren’s cello mixed in throws off a Kansas vibe. When Darby takes a break, the song moves into various moods both empyrean and forceful, finding its was back to the theme via a natural path.

The polish of these songs and the precise way they were arranged and executed is the calling card of this incarnation of Thieves’ Kitchen. Soulful as it is technically sound, One For Sorrow, Two For Joy appeals stronger with each listen as the details reveal more of themselves. A lot of bands trip over themselves when they get so sophisticated it starts to sound too cute. Not so with Thieves Kitchen, there are no real missteps to be found on this album; these guys have it figured out.

One For Sorrow, Two For Joy was released February 5, by AIS Records. Visit Thieves’ Kitchen’s website for more info.

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