NRP: The Court and Spark – Witch Season
So this is a column that I started and abandoned a while back. Not out of lack of interest, but more of out time I think. However, as the glut of albums that do find reissue seem to be leaning ever towards the major label bloat, it feels as necessary as ever to lobby for some of the overlooked gems to finally get their due. Now, I know that in 2022, pining for a vinyl issue of an album already neglected feels like an exercise in self-defeat, but I guess bear with me (or cheer and agree) while I explore albums that need to be back on the turntable, or get there for the first time. This first case skews towards the latter. That anemic period during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s wrought quite a few albums that were only on CD, and barring this “CD revival” some are pining for, it stills seems imperative to get some of the most transformative records onto the turntable. This period of time is one of the most in need of righting a few wrongs. That said, there are few bands that feel more in line with what’s happening musically in the current climate than The Court and Spark.
The band, along with Beachwood Sparks were far ahead of the Cosmic Country curve, and the group not only laid way for the solo careers of M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch, but they crafted some of the era’s finest auburn-hued country. Now, I can already hear the cries immediately going up for the band’s solidified classic Bless You over Witch Season, and if I get down to straight quality of records, the two are neck and neck for me. They remain almost entwined as the band’s pinnacle. However. Bless You pulls out of the running here for a couple of reasons, the first being that it was actually pressed to LP back in 2001, so even if those are scarce and in need of a new run, Witch Season never even got its shot. The second is that there’s a resplendent darkness to Witch Season that was never replicated in the band’s catalog. It’s a hard gravity to fight, and I’d love to see it given it’s proper due.
Themes of religion, redemption, and loneliness permeate the album. While Bless You was an airier, more effusive record, the tightness in songwriting here is offset by the band’s work with producer Scott Solter, who helps thread an air of mystery throughout the album with field recordings and carefully placed instrumentals. Years later the record is still a vital exploration of cosmically tinged Americana, and an album rife for revival. The real roadblocks here are obvious and likely rather prohibitive — the band’s label Absolutely Kosher shuttered in 2011 due to financial troubles and shows no signs of maintaining so much as a Bandcamp page. Whatever was put into digital circulation remains on streaming and download services but unless Taylor or Hirsch have gained back the rights this one would entail a bit of legal finagling. There’s always hope though. The band were a bright spot in a time when the ‘90s No Depression crew were becoming scarce and psych-folk out batted country 10-1. Maybe it’s time for Witch Season to rise again.