Oracle Hysterical and New Vintage Baroque
Photograph courtesy Oracle Hysterical

Heavenly rhetoric: Oracle Hysterical meets New Vintage Baroque.

On paper, The Passionate Pilgrim, a new collaboration between composer-performer collective Oracle Hysterical – Elliot Cole, Majel Connery, and Doug and Brad Balliett – and period-instruments ensemble New Vintage Baroque, is a fascinating prospect. The core notion is based on a collection of poetry once ascribed to Shakespeare, all but four selections from which subsequently were debunked. The Oracles fashioned the poems into a Baroque-pop song cycle, which they recently recorded with NVB; the album-release concert is coming up this Saturday evening, January 21.

(Obligatory disclaimer: The Passionate Pilgrim is being released on VIA Records, the National Sawdust house brand. The record-release concert will be held at National Sawdust. And New Vintage Baroque’s oboe ace, Lindsay McIntosh, is also National Sawdust’s programming associate – one of my everyday comrades.)

Still, I hope you’ll take me at my word when I offer a keen endorsement of this fascinating prospect’s results. The voices of Oracle Hysterical are sweet, fresh, and appealing, ideally suiting the poetry’s chaste ardor. New Vintage Baroque’s accompaniment is lively and lithe, without a trace of mustiness. Admirers of Joanna Newsom and Shara Nova will find plenty to savor, as will anyone enchanted by the chamber-pop tapestries of Van Dyke Parks or tickled by the bubbly bassoon line in “Tears of a Clown.” One song, “When As Thine Eye,” whispers especially Beatlesque in its breathy retro-pop intimacy. And I’m fascinated by the way disparate layers of melody and accompaniment float suspended in slightly uneasy detente in “If Music.”

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to this.

Seriously: how gorgeous is that? And there’s more where this came from: on the Oracle Hysterical website and, soon, on disc and onstage. — Steve Smith

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