South for Winter, a Nashville-based trio known for their multidimensional sound that mixes folk, gypsy, jazz, blues and rock, have released a record designated for the masses.
The band began back in 2014, when New Zealander Nick Stone and Coloradan Dani Cichon met whilst traveling in South America. It was there that they wrote their first song together (“Fallen Seeds”), but South for Winter wasn’t officially formed until the pair reconnected in Nashville three years later. Classically-trained cellist, Alex Stradal, soon teamed up with the couple, and the trio set out on a two-year tour across the United States and Canada, while unsurprisingly gaining a loyal following along the way.
The band first embarked on this new creative project after releasing their song “Twine” to the world. They had just finished working with Grammy-award winning producer Matt Leigh on their self-recorded How the Mountain EP, and originally, the song was recorded in part to aide Leigh in an audio engineering class he was teaching. But after recording the song, Leigh suggested they make a full album — the studio he worked at full-time had just been sold to developers and was due to be torn down within the year. So they thought, “Why not?”
The album in question, Luxumbra, which is latin for “light and shadow,” manifests itself into that exact translation – weighted, foreboding storylines; euphoric harmonies; beautifully colored imagery; and exquisitely executed instrumentation. You’ll hear Stradal radiantly shred away on his cello, while Stone gives us a mix of gentle riffs and droning hooks with his guitar work. Cichon’s powerful voice is uniquely angelic, and when tied up with Stone, the pair produce an ethereal experience so few can so easily accomplish.
Not yet convinced? To give you a more detailed idea of what you’d be in for when listening to this record, I’ve provided a brief breakdown of each song. Let’s get started, shall we?
Twine – As the first of many singles put out by the band, this song serves as a fierce opener that effortlessly displays not only their lyrical prowess but their well-established musicianship right off the bat. A cello builds high and low in just the right moments, while a delicate harmony hypnotizes you through and through. The complexities of the cello and the acoustic guitar make you want to listen to this song on repeat, building in momentum and ending in a crash that left me quite literally uttering, “Damn, that was good.”
All We Have – We are followed up by the third single that dropped almost a year ago, and similar to the making of this album, this song resembles a steady, slow burn. It begins with the ambient undertone of a cello and a tender acoustic riff that drives the song all the way through to its fruition. In comes Cichon and Stone’s serenely tranquil voices, twining their way through your soul, leaving an impression that profoundly roots itself to your core. The song then materializes further to include drums, bass, mandolin and violin that advances the track towards its compelling conclusion. All in all, a pleasant listen.
Dawn – This is the first of the few short “interludes” that appear throughout the album. An eerie mandolin and acoustic guitar take the forefront, while Cichon and Stone’s voices ring out with the haunting lyrics, “Ten Black crows circling overhead/ Noose around its neck/ Any last requests/ Ten black crows circling overhead/ ‘Any final words’ is what the hangman says”, that match those of the song’s successor.
Ten Black Crows – And then here we are, the album’s second single, one of the few of what has been called “Murder Ballads” to grace Luxumbra. With a spellbinding groove and a captivating storyline that evokes a chill up your spine, this track paves way to a grittier side of South for Winter. Halfway through, the song shifts gears, riding up the beat and advancing into an anthemic drive. Right into the fast lane we go.
Fallen Seeds – This song oozes sinister European adventure movie-type vibes, and I’m absolutely here for it. Combining a deep, driving cello, and a lively set of bongos, the song delivers a persistent warning as it drifts in and out of a lullaby section whose melody instantly linked me to the main theme from Anastasia. If you aren’t already hooked on Cichon’s voice by this point, then this will surely do the trick, like a siren lulling you to your inescapable demise.
Dusk – In the most bewitching minute and fifteen seconds you’ll hear thus far, Stradal communicates in a language that resonates with your entire entity. Dripping in rich seduction, this cello interlude managed to ignite something in me so vivid, that when it neared its end, I was desperately grasping onto its last stroke for more.
Devil is A’ Calling – If the devil had a theme-song, this would be it. Penetrating drums team up with the grunt of an electric guitar that spawns elements of classic rock. With this, South for Winter commands your undivided attention. The track, set to a low and heavy beat, portrays a cautionary biblical tale that torments you in all the right ways. For every direction this song took, all I could think was “Holy shit.” It’s catchy melody will surely leave you humming out the chorus days later – it’s that addictive.
Always You – This track is pure foot-stomping folk if I’ve ever heard one – and not just because there’s actual foot-stomping heard throughout its entirety. Quite a different mood from its prior, this song combines the lovely strum of a mandolin, enchanting harmonies, an anthemic electric guitar, and a gliding cello to bring the listener on an exploration of the light and joyful. It’s impossible not to feel good listening to this.
All I Wanna Do – A love story begun in a French cafe – that’s what I picture if this song were to come to life. South for Winter takes us back in time, expanding into their jazzier side with this silky smooth ballad. The vibrant timbre of the cello dances with the mellow electric guitar, while Stone’s and Cichon’s voices deliver a sensuous duet like no other. This song proves just how versatile this band can be, and it’s incredibly refreshing.
Caeruleum – An acoustic guitar’s melodic croon and a cello’s mystic hum bounce off of one another in this chilling, instrumental chokehold. Even though this track is meant to act as a “prelude” of sorts for the following song, it is anything but a skipper, showing us just how masterful Stone and Stradal really are.
Black Widow (In White Lace) – Booming drums, a guttural cello and the grunt of an electric guitar solo take the reigns in this Southern rock murder ballad about the legend of the first female serial killer. Stradal shows off his effortlessly intricate capabilities while Cichon and Stone’s intoxicating harmonies cast a spell on whoever’s listening. This song is all-encompassing, overwhelming you enough to make a lasting impression you won’t soon forget.
Into The Eye – As the longest song on the album, this fully instrumental track was written by Stone when he was 19, based on inspiration he got from finger-style guitarists Newton Faulkner and John Butler. Starting with an acoustic guitar solo, a cello comes sweeping in, developing into a duet that compliments the rises and falls of each part with absolute ease. The song is one of the more technically difficult pieces off the album, if not the most technical, and I’d pay big bucks to hear it performed live. It doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.
Stone – Luxumbra’s conclusion is a defectless divergence from the dark murder ballads that adorn this album. South for Winter produces an entrancing sound, oozing out organic intent and lush arrangements laden with authentic, hearty vocals, complex guitar-work, and a soothing percussion section made up of congas, bongos, udu, and tabla. Fun fact, the last guitar lick is actually the first guitar riff of “Twine.” The perfect finish to a masterful piece of work.
Overall: This album has a little bit of everything. Nothing sounds too much like the other, and nothing sounds too outlandish to make sense. Various avenues that branch off one common home. An eclectic blend of the highs and lows of the world. Luxumbra is right.