Sam Cantor arrived at a moment of requiring art as so many have done before, after the dissolution of a long-term relationship. The resulting personal excavation mined Tethers, his third full-length studio album as Minor Moon, a collection of warm Americana that is inviting and amiable, despite its lyrical matters.
The Chicago-based Cantor may lead Minor Moon as a multi-instrumentalist but this record is embellished by an equally strong backing collective of musicians: aside from his usual trusted band members, additional help is provided by the likes of V.V. Lightbody on flute and vocals and Ohmme’s Macie Stewart on violin and vocals; everything from saxophone to trombone, pedal steel guitar to cello flourish and swell the sound of Tethers. It’s where the warmth emanates from, this feeling of these musicians all gathering together on a small town’s quiet verandah at dusk, purely there to play their instruments and work on their group dynamic.
This is Cantor’s solo journey though and the first half of the album sees him lost in an almost sci-fi landscape, some otherworldly place. He encounters ghosts, spectres; in the haunting “Hey, Dark Ones” he witnesses “Thousand bodies where the bonfire flared, their heads were dead: no eyes, no teeth, no hair.” He’s reckoning with his demons, his psyche, his very spirituality.
The songs mostly move at a gentle and unhurried pace and the consistent amiability of the record is rarely interrupted. There’s the rollicking and rolling “Was There Anything Else?”; there’s the light blues of “The Ground”. Heavy slices of electric guitar wound “So Quiet”, which plays delicately with fast-and-loud mechanics, as if Cantor himself is threatening to unleash his full, true emotions but keeps holding something back.
Mostly the temperature is resolutely mild, favouring meandering melodies like “The First Time You Left Home”. “Beyond the Light” begins like a Spaghetti Western homage, the track kicking up cinematic country dust, before it devolves once more into simple harmonic pleasantries. The simplicity comes together great on a song like the sparse “Obvious Blessing”, Cantor’s swooning vocal meeting the isolated pedal steel guitar.
“In the Long Year” is the stripped back closing song and it’s the most honest and sincere track lyrically. Cantor’s voice is measured, controlling the clear emotion behind the words as he contends with his former relationship. Sombre strings carve the air. It’s restrained but forceful and feels like Cantor accepting what is no more and coming to terms with his journey here.
In terms of dives into the existential abyss, Cantor’s is an understated one but it is a necessary one. It’s why “No Lightning Fix” is such an encapsulating turn of phrase: Cantor seems finally content with uncertainty, content that there is, indeed, no quick fix for heartbreak. Perhaps his fourth album as Minor Moon may feel the need to be titled Untethered, when the time comes.