Very rarely do I use the word fascinating to describe a record. I am often impressed, excited, or even bored by the records that cross my desk, but this is the first that has fascinated me. That fascination is derived from the Cedar Hill Refugees’ blending of Uzbeki and Appalachian folk music on their recent release, Pale Imperfect Diamond.
And, no, that isn’t a misprint. You read correctly – Uzbeki and Appalachian folk music. Blended together. Interested yet?
The brainchild of musician Jack Clift, who founded the Uzbek jam band Jadoo after a trip to Uzbekistan, Pale Imperfect Diamond represents the collision of two incredibly diverse musical cultures. But Clift saw unity and similarity in that diversity, and with the help of John Carter Cash he called together some of the best and brightest in bluegrass and country music – including Ronnie McCoury, John Cowan, Marty Stewart, and Dennis Crouch – and his Uzbeki friends to complete this project.
This extraordinary musical ensemble gives the multicultural treatment to eight Appalachian standards and five originals that were written specifically for Pale Imperfect Diamond. Highlights on the record are the sparse instrumentation and haunting vocals of Ralph Stanley on "Keys To The Kingdom," the stunning harmonies of The Pearsall Sisters on "The Wife Of Usher’s Well," and "Polly’s Last Ride," the band’s take on "Pretty Polly," perhaps the most famous murder ballad in all of Appalachian folk music, complete with driving percussion and droning Uzbeki strings.
Jack Clift is most certainly a man blessed with vision; a man unafraid to think outside the box. How else to explain Pale Imperfect Diamond, a record unlike anything I have previously heard.
Pale Imperfect Diamond is out now on Effigy Records.