Yet another band moniker for a solo performer, Castanets is the nom de musique of Raymond Raposa, a San Diego singer-songwriter with a playfully warped approach to American roots music: Not quite country, not quite folk, and not quite blues or gospel, Castanets weaves aspects of each into a haunted, doom-laden, traveling-minstrel style.
Much of City of Refuge is Raposa's somber, stray-dog yowl of a voice—think Woody Guthrie on Zoloft (not a sufficient dosage, alas)—and stark and spare strummed guitar chords. The ambiance is akin to a chilly autumn night in an unpopulated town, where there are no signs of life and only half of the streetlights work. There's judicious twang, as if out of a Morricone-scored Western, lending to the Town-with-No-Name desolation and mirage-like distortion on the side. It's a dark place, the kind of place you don't want to go alone or when you're already in a bad mood.
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But if you ever feel yourself becoming too giddy or effervescent, City of Refuge will sober you up right quick.