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Devin Hoff: Voices from the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs) (Kill Rock Stars)

A review of the bassist's debut for the DIY punk label

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Devin Hoff: Voices from the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs)
The cover of Voices from the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs) by Devin Hoff

Devin Hoff isn’t tethered to a specific genre; his flair for never staying close to any vest is why he’s such a singular force on bass. He’s collaborated with punk icons, avant-jazz titans, and art-rockers alike—and that’s just a small sampling. On Voices from the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs), Hoff makes yet another left turn and the result is an arresting listening experience.

Hoff has demonstrated virtuosic prowess on solo bass outings over the years, but his deeply expressionistic, emotionally impactful work on this, his debut for DIY punk label Kill Rock Stars, is next-level stuff. Voices from the Empty Moor was inspired by pioneering English folk singer/songwriter/improviser Anne Briggs, whose music the bassist has made a personal focal point over the last decade. That obsession translates into a chamber music-style recording that tugs at the heartstrings with a subtle beauty that sounds like it’s from another time and place. 

However, Hoff couldn’t pull off such tender folk grandeur without help from vocalists who channel the hauntingly exquisite voice of Briggs. Indie-rockers Sharon Van Etten, Julia Holter, and Shannon Lay give top-flight performances. “Go Your Way” finds Hoff recreating and rearranging Briggs’ acoustic-guitar fingerpicking on the original with stretchy, mellifluous riffing and bowed accents against Van Etten’s spine-tingling rendering. “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” (with Holter lending vocals) and “Living by the Water” (featuring Lay) follow similar textural dynamics: sparse, harmonious, hymnlike, and mesmerizing. Singer Emmett Kelly (a collaborator of Bonnie “Prince” Billy) is no less transcendent on “Blackwater Side.”

While the album’s other guests—drummer Jim White, saxophonist Howard Wiley, and oud player Alejandro Farha—shine, it’s Hoff’s wondrous, voice-like playing and richly detailed arrangements that are at the heart of the revelatory Voices from the Empty Moor.

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