As easy as it is to dismiss Catholics for their popery, there is something about the ritual of confession that appeals to me. Not that I’d ever actually part those sacred curtains and bear my heart to a faceless and potentially predatory old man, but I like the idea of exposing my flaws and shedding masks of deceit every so often. Luckily there’s the blues—music rooted in gospel but safely removed from the church—to give voice to our collective yearnings and lament the mistakes of the past. On Charalambides’ latest offering, A Vintage Burden, classic blues guitar informs a modern psychedelic sensibility, exploring regret and the passage of time without the baggage of rigid song structures or religious conventions.
The album opens with a languid guitar loop, repeating itself with a barely noticeable delay each time. As the melody circles forward, Christina Carter’s ethereal vocals meditate on timeless beauty, gently assuring us that “There is No End.” The first track sets the tone for the remainder of the record, as the same unadorned guitar sound and vocal structures recur throughout. If you’re looking for a dynamic collection of songs, you’ve come to the wrong place. The minimal compositions quickly fade into the background if you don’t pay careful attention, but the attentive listener will find plenty of material for careful rumination. I’d like to play this album through some headphones in a pasture at dusk, watching the cows chew their cud as the gathering darkness erases their shapes.
Although it never strays from subdued reflection, A Vintage Burden avoids indulging in cheap melancholy. There is something irrepressibly thankful about these songs, and while there are no answers provided to the questions of love and forgiveness raised, the album leaves me with the same contented feeling as Blind Willie Johnson’s rendition of “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There.” The record’s lengthy centerpiece, “Two Birds,” builds on slide flourishes and cautiously euphoric vocals, over which Carter delivers the album’s most cohesive statement: “There is nothing for me to know/There is no need to struggle/But day after day/I want to know.”