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Boxharp is the solo undertaking of The Court and Spark's talented vocalist M.C. Taylor (with collaborator Scott Solter and many contributors), and while it shares many of the musical dynamics of that fabulously ethereal country-rock band, it's also a project of a slightly more experimental nature. The songs themselves are masterpieces of spacious, lonesome musical Americana, full of loping acoustic guitars, tinkling piano lines that seem plucked from the air of an Old West cowboy bar, and soaring pedal steels with their peculiar ache that always seems to conjure up the heart-wrenching emptiness of the desert night. A few songs bear the subtle influence of gospel and blues, accentuating their feeling of desolate, beautiful, uniquely American yearning. Taylor's rough, dusky voice, like that of an old-time country balladeer (how did he learn to sing like that?! This guy got his start in a Santa Barbara hardcore band, the late EX-iGNOTA), has always been a distinctive element in The Court and Spark's material, but here it is on particularly affecting display, poignant, wounded, and endlessly searching. Taylor's gritty earthiness is complemented periodically by the celestial harmonies of occasional Court and Spark collaborator Wendy Allen.

What truly makes Boxharp's debut, The Tailored Soldier, a different kind of record, is that it was crafted on a foundation of ambient field recordings. These operate in different ways at different times. Usually they operate as a subtle instrumental element in the songs -- a distant clamor, a sigh, a creak, a drone -- somehow making Taylor's dusty, nostalgic beauties more immediate, more tactile. But when a song comes to a close, the noises continue, creating nebulous rural atmospherics until the next song begins. And at times, particularly at the end of the album, Taylor and co. build haunting, murky ambient musical textures atop the frame provided by the field recordings.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Boxharp began with those field recordings. Taylor made them with Court and Spark (and Tarentel) producer Scott Solter during a spring 1999 trip to Solter's cabin in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, Arizona. Later, the duo added additional field recordings culled from a Wyoming train yard and a mariner's church in Bolinas, CA. Back in the city, the pair enlisted a number of their musical friends, including Scott Hirsch, Tom Heyman, and Allen (of The Court and Spark, Patrick Main (Paula Frazer, Oranger), and Pat Campbell (Oranj Symphonette), to help them construct the fragile and uniquely lovely song set that would comprise The Tailored Soldier. It's a remarkable, unparalleled record, which seems to articulate something essential about life out on the western edge of the world, something which hadn't before been said.