Although violinist Carla Kihlstedt's background -- in Tin Hat Trio, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and various other San Francisco avant-garde groups -- would logically lead you to assume "2 Foot Yard" to be a nail-biting journey into cacophonous composition, the reality is that it sweeps through too many stylistic incarnations to be so easily classified. Less a true solo album than the recorded debut of "2 Foot Yard," an on-and-off trio featuring cellist Marika Hughes (who's played with Tin Hat, as well as other notables like Mr. Bungle) and bicoastal multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, this album is nonetheless Kihlstedt's show, as she is definitely the primary composer and musician. Playing four different string instruments (including zither), as well as melodica, accordion and bass harmonica (!), Kihlstedt also keeps a firm hand on the stylistic rudder of "2 Foot Yard," having written pretty much every note. Certainly, her string-section adventurousness gets a full airing, and many of the songs -- the brief, frenetic harmonies of "Flash Flood," the achy, string-twisting "No One Nicer" are of particular note -- are dense with dynamic daring.
Since Kihlstedt seldom hews toward traditional structures in her songs, it goes without saying that she often ignores typical ideas of melodic/harmonic beauty. Yet, whether it's the delicate, Miranda Sex Garden-does-Weill tale of "Trampolina," or the raunchy, po-mo, Waits-style poetry of "Peel," "2 Foot Yard" is certainly imbued with its own unique sense of perfection. No track here defines that as much as the atmospheric dirge that is "50 Miles." Loosely based on '30s gospel preacher F.W. McGee's "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room," Kihlstedt elegantly recasts the from-the-pulpit rawness of the original into a thing of starkly ethereal grace. With its truly original instrumentation, "2 Foot Yard" evokes similar chicks-with-fiddle records like those from Geraldine Fibbers or Lisa Germano. But while those artists are generally ensconced within pop parameters, Kihlstedt is in an entirely different realm. With her thoroughly exceptional approach, she has crafted a disc that is monumentally more engaging and audacious than anything she could have created as an "avant-garde" artist. This is absolutely essential listening.