Review Summary: Trip-folk from deepest darkest Appalachia.
Rising Appalachia have, since their 2005 self titled release, managed to construct a sound that is unmistakeably theirs. Combining influences not exclusively ranging from traditional Appalachian, jazz, West African and gospel music, the sisters' songs have an organic, untampered quality to them which makes them an endearing listen, whether in an urban environment as escapism from the constructed world around, or in the wilderness where they undoubtedly seem most at home. This makes the idea of introducing electronic elements seem somewhat questionable; however, in teaming up with David Block's 'The Human Experience' Rising Appalachia have done just that, and the result is a highly enjoyable release that mixes their aforementioned eclectic brand of folk with a complementary but not overpowering trip-hop constituent.
What makes Soul Visions such an engaging listen is that across its 6 tracks (or 7 if the acoustic verson of opener Swoon is included), the same ideas are not tried throughout. Tracks such as Mississippi and Nobody's Fault utilise very little of the traditional instrumentation found across Rising Appalachia's discography, instead choosing to showcase themselves through their fantastically soulful lyrics and vocals, whereas Downtown (featuring a ridiculously groovy line on the double bass) and Swoon have a more poppy sound despite the greater prevalence of 'live' instruments being used. A different collaboration may have yielded different results, but Block's appreciation of when and when not to bring in his tripping, staggered beats ensures that they never come to the forefront as an overpowering force, but rather as a point of interest to provide a bit of unexpectancy to a well layed-out formula.
Where Soul Visions does slip up slightly is the vocal repetition used throughout - although the performances are typically brilliant, and there are stylistic factors which mean that there is likely to be said repetition to a certain degree, it makes most of the tracks seem slightly too long, especially given the questionable lyrics being repeated ('I've got the flavour baby, you just give me the time' from Swoon springs to mind). This is a particular shame when taken into account how excellent as lyricists the Smith sisters can be, and this does bring into question how much of an influence working with different, non-physical mediums may have had on the songwriting process, having an inadvertedly simplifying effect when perhaps the original intention was to provide an alternative facet to the music.
Mixing two styles which at face value are fairly different to one another would never be an easy task, but Rising Appalachia and The Human Experiment manage to (mostly) achieve it with such aplomb that it's a wonder more artists don't do the same. Despite there being the aforementioned lyrical issues this is still a very interesting listen that - most importantly - still retains that slightly outdoorsy feel that makes for such a valuable getaway from whatever issues life may be throwing your way.