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Bellafea’s 2005 Pidgeon English debut, Family Tree EP, was often encumbered by its own ideas: Brilliant as the songs were, naked vocals, shuffling feet and eerie guitar interludes seemed a bit awkward set against a core of riot pop. It was a simple snag. The EP got by on an unmoored aesthetic that tends to work best on full-lengths, and the short-player’s in-and-out snap prohibited the establishment of a palpable tone. Even so, the gorgeously dynamic vocals of Heather McEntire proved glue enough to hold the six songs together just fine through alternating storm and still. She could sing the classifieds in the back of this paper and stop hearts.
While Family Tree never settled, Bellafea’s long-in-coming Cavalcade rushes from the gate with remarkable focus (and a guest spot from Mountain Goat John Darnielle), fully realizing the sketches that McEntire has been toying with for the past four years. The ideas scattershot across Family Tree are here, but they just have room to form and breathe now: The dry-throat stomp of the EP’s “Be Still & Know,” for instance, returns on “Telling the Hour,” which trades bass for snare beneath tense strings and McEntire’s obstinate acoustic picking. Tree‘s “Thorn Bird” gets a sequel with richer cellos and violas, roomier drums and a beefed-up spazz-out, all leading into the most noticeable tweak: a shortened, impossibly eerie Amore Del Tropico outro. The rewriting and tightening of that obtuse stretch show a band learning a valuable lesson of economics. Scratchy guitars and swirls of strings pack a considerably more visceral punch than prolonged minimalist instrumentation.
Here, Bellafea doesn’t just have room. It’s learned how to use it. Throughout, the bass playing of Eddie Sanchez, the drumming of Nathan Buchanan and the reverent production of Brian Paulson support McEntire tirelessly, following her voice and a wonderful surplus of ideas, wherever it leads.
Bellafea plays a CD release show at Local 506 with The Curtains of Night and Robo Sapien Saturday, April 19, at 10 p.m. Admission is free.