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Horse Feathers' Justin Ringle sings warm, sweet-voiced, comfortable songs about discomfort. Broken homes, a hardscrabble day-to-day existence, alienation and doubt, a difficult past of which no one dares speak — they infuse every note and minute of the Portland, Ore., band's impeccably lovely folk music. On Horse Feathers' fourth album, Cynic's New Year, that tension between gorgeousness and grief even gets a single line to sum it all up: "Beauty and loss, they are one and the same."
Still, all the rustic, fatalistic misery in the world can't drown out the soul-nourishing sweep of Horse Feathers' strings, which wash down every worry with a nice, cold glass of sweet tea. At its hardest-edged, as in the accessible workingman's lament "Fit Against the Country," a bit of the lyrical tension bubbles over into the arrangement, giving the music a tinge of unsettled anger. But for the most part, Cynic's New Year — out April 17 — is all exquisite grace and charm, infused with more than enough beauty to compensate for the losses it mourns.