Delicate Musical Web Spun by Husband and Wife Team

Groups like Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Pentangle thrived in relative obscurity, even at their peaks. They're probably more appreciated and better known today than they were back in the 1960s. Low, a contemplative, musically soft-spoken trio from Duluth, Minnesota and playing since the early '90s, succeeds today with a similarly small but dedicated following much as those fabled "folk" groups did back then: quality of fans over quantity. Low tours, forms musical alliances with other groups (an EP with Australia's Dirty 3, for instance), and issues records and CDs. The band also sells T-shirts and other merchandise online. Most importantly, Low's thoughtful, enigmatic music is in some ways merits comparison to the now-legendary groups mentioned above.

The husband and wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, joined by bassist Zak Sally, create almost impossibly slow, spare, reflective soundscapes. Parker plays a minimalist drum kit and Sparhawk handles guitar and keyboards. All three sing. If you get its recent album Trust on vinyl, the opening song "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace" will have you thinking the disc was pressed at 45 rpm--until the chant-like vocals begin. The track sounds something like Angelo Badalamenti backed by a monastery choir. Next up is the fuzz-bass-driven "Canada," which takes the music into a far more secular pop direction, while "Candy Girl" returns to the opener's eerie sluggishness and chain-gang beat.

The chief songwriting couple is Mormon, but the group insists on its Web site that it doesn't consider itself a "Christian" band. Yet the music is saturated with an unmistakable, yet thankfully diffuse and abstract, spirituality. The fragile and transcendent nature of life flows through the 13 moody tracks, all of which have been superbly mixed by Tchad Blake. While the Mitchell Froom/Tchad Blake production team often drowned their work in studio processing, this "triple A" production (analog recording, mixing, and mastering, proudly proclaimed on a jacket sticker) sounds pure and sweet, though the group still makes use of effects behind the main musical events. The mixes drip with echo and delay-induced atmospherics, yet instruments behind the almost whispery, wind-through-the-trees vocals retain body and clarity. Subwoofer-challenging drones and slow, insistent foot stomping add heft to some tracks.

The lyrics are simple, yet inscrutable. For instance, here are the words to "It's in the Drugs":

i was a child

i was on fire

but i stayed alive while all else died

i held my breath

what could i say

and i closed my eyes like marvin gaye

but now i've had enough

it's in the drugs

it's in the drugs

it's in the drugs, ahhh

it's in the drugs

you had your plan

a heavy hand

but the weight was more than you could stand

breaking like dolls

singing like birds

we always get what we deserve

but now i've had enough

it's in the drugs

it's in the drugs

Any ideas?

The trio is aided by other musicians (including Gerry Beckley from the '70s soft-rocking group America singing background vocals on two tracks) so there's plenty going on to hold your interest, beyond the folky trio basics. According to its site, the group enjoys listening to Black Sabbath, Rage Against the Machine, and Jesus Lizard, as well as Wire (good choice!), Morton Feldman, The Beatles, and Yo La Tengo. They've covered everyone from John Denver to Soul Coughing, The Bee Gees, and The Beach Boys

While a pervasive, introspective sadness saturates Low's music, the songs are also inspiring and meditative. After the process of absorbing it (late night, lights out is optimal), you might find yourself refreshed and ready to face another punishing 21st-century day.