What do you think of when asked to visualize Indiana? Does your mind go to the folksy and fictionalized Pawnee, helmed by the indomitable Leslie Knope? Maybe cornfields or basketball? Hopefully not Mike Pence. Maybe you've never given Indiana much thought, and to be completely honest, if I hadn't attended college there for five-ish years and married someone from the state, I am not sure that I would have either. But I love Indiana. I really do.
For those of you not so familiar with the Hoosier State, I suggest you check out Stuart Hyatt's "Field Works" discography. Hyatt, along with collaborators too numerous to list here, have produced albums about a mysterious Indianapolis waterway (Pogue's Run), the Indiana State Fair (The Fair State), a single Indy street (The National Road), and just last year, an excellent album using chirps from the endangered Indiana Bat (Ultrasonic). So he's got you covered as far as sonic postcards from "the crossroads of America."
On his new album, however, Hyatt blends familiar Americana with something wholly international. Cedars, it turns out, is a dual-language, cosmic Middle Eastern + Appalachian mashup. Split into equal parts, side one of the album is narrated by Youmna Saba in Arabic, and side two by H.C. McEntire in English. The instrumentation includes pedal steel and banjo, but also oud and hurdy-gurdy. And on the long list of musical players, you will find DC favorites Fadi Tabbal and Marisa Anderson. It's quite a unique mix of styles, really, but one that works beautifully.
Cedars LP with accompanying book, illustrated by María Medem
The through-lines connecting sides one and two are cedar trees on the surface, but also humans' complicated connections with the larger natural world. Many people seem to have read Richard Powers' Overstory recently, and because the book has been referenced on DC before, we're going to avoid another detailed comparison. But yeah, similar (and very important) themes are at the cores of both works. For instance, McEntire speaks of young, sharp-smelling cedars poetically reclaiming fallow land, but later laments scarred forests stripped for coal. Humans seem to revere forests for their mystical powers and wild beauty, but shrug off their destruction as collateral damage necessary to uphold an unsustainable economy. This story is all too familiar to us Oregonians.
So the lyrics are certainly poignant, but the music also provides a stunningly beautiful backdrop. Hyatt has ventured far beyond Indiana for this Field Works creation, and we are so thankful that he's taken us along. Cedars is an album like no other, and definitely warrants a listen when it comes out on March 5th. Find it here, and stream a preview track below.