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At the root of singer-songwriter Bill Santen's musical vision is what Gram Parsons called "cosmic American music": the notion of a music that is timeless, universal, democratic, and profoundly American. That vision manifests itself in the brooding, densely textured, evocative songs of Santen's band, Birddog. These are songs that demonstrate a remarkable consciousness of the seminal American acoustic-based musical styles. You'll feel this band's debt to high plains folk, Delta blues, Kentucky bluegrass, and more. It's a sound that's assured, mature, evocative, and highly intelligent.

Santen started playing music professionally in Portland, Oregon, but he grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and the tenor of his music reflects his background. Birddog's record, Ghost of the Season, is their first full-length, and it's a masterpiece of introspective, acoustic song-oriented modern folk music. Santen's thin, dusky voice is amazing in its versatility. Sometimes it's fragile and keening, as if buffeted mercilessly by the elements; at others, it's tenacious and cautiously hopeful. On some of the songs, Santen adds cellist Chris Tesluk, which sounds perfect with Santen's reedy voice and makes Birddog' sound even darker, almost gothic. The title track is a lushly arranged, beautifully weary meditation on fractured relationships that will drop your heart into your shoes.

Birddog is not easy stuff to listen to; like Palace, it's haunting, emotionally draining material. But if you respond to brutally honest, unpretentious music, get this band's record.