A beautiful mix of ethereal Americana and folk, the music of Red Heart the Ticker is thick with the poetry of places. Robin MacArthur and Tyler Gibbons, a husband and wife duo from the small town of Marlboro, Vermont, channel the landscape of the North woods on their new album, Oh My! Mountains Below. This musical terrain, full of tight vocal harmonies, glockenspiels, drifting guitar licks, banjoes, and hand-claps, is both atmospheric and image-rich.
The pair began crafting the album just after the death of Robin’s grandmother, the singer and folklorist Margaret MacArthur, and a year later began recording it in Margaret’s two-hundred year-old farm house in Vermont, the same house where Margaret recorded her first album for Folkways in 1962. “My grandmother was a folk-singer in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Her songs told stories about place,” MacArthur says. “We were consciously influenced by that and wanted this collection to create a lyrical sense of place.” Those songs took on theme of death and transcendence. A few weeks into the recording process Robin discovered she was pregnant, and Oh My! Mountains Below adapted to a second, newer muse. “At that point it became about the transformation from death to re-birth,” Gibbons says, “darkness and light.” RHTT finished recording in the fall of 2008 in the cabin they built themselves a quarter mile down the road from the farmhouse.
The songs on Oh My! Mountains Below abound with the rural images of wood, birds, fields, skin and winter air. On “I Lift that Boombox,” the duo harmonize through an evolving arrangement, each hook surpassing the last as slide guitars and cellos build towards the declaration, “Yes I lift that boombox/yes I make a god-awful ruckus.” Yellowbird is dominated by MacArthur’s quivering alto. “November, nothing but a cold wind/blowing leaves, round and round again,” she croons, as Frippy guitars and strains of accordion eventually make room for a syncopated bass line and ambient cymbals. The entire collection, from the chunky guitars of “(I Used to Wear the) Head of a Lion,” to the true-tale murder-suicide balladry of “The Ballad of J. Murphy,” and the soaring duet “When We Were Young” all showcase the duo’s compelling songwriting and storytelling.
RHTT’s sound is often compared to Gillian Welch, Will Oldham, Wilco, and Iron and Wine. They play extensively as a duo, and are joined on the record by the musicians Thad DeBrock (Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann), Chris Vatalaro (The Roots, Antibalas), and the folk performer Sam Amidon, among others. Paste magazine described their previous record, 2006’s For the Wicked, as “extremely pretty . . . full of winter melancholy, wispy melodies and plans for escape.”