Despite a solid roster of Chicago underground vets, the Horse's Ha fail to show signs of life on what proves to be a sleepy album of wispy folk. Led by Janet Bean (Eleventh Dream Day) and James Elkington (Zincs), the band aspire to a sophisticated synthesis of English folk, jazz, and bossa nova rhythms — a lofty goal that fails to materialize.
Instead, Of the Cathmawr Yards makes only superficial attempts at escaping the slick folk rut it gets stuck in. The pleasant "Asleep in a Waterfall" sets the blueprint, and the rest of the songs all sound like variations on that winning, though limited, theme. The incomparable Fred Lonberg-Holm and his cello are often the only notable color, as he lends feeling to otherwise drab numbers like "Wild's Empty Bedroom" and "Liberation."
His usually intense improvisations are still bridled, however, by the strictness of the band's arrangements. Track after track of politely plucked guitar and mid-tempo duets for Bean and Elkington, whose harmonies are strained and oddly distracted, makes for tedious listening. Of the Cathmawr Yards is Ambien-fueled folk that never rises above room temperature, well-crafted yet lacking in passion and vitality.