The Looking is actually Todd Carter with a finely tuned set of back-up musicians—gents who've worked with Norah Jones, DJ Logic, Andrew Bird, and others—and Songs for a Traveler is so beautiful and quietly solid that it's mystical, much reminiscent of Leigh Gregory's work at its mistiest, its most darkly ironic, and finely crafted. As such, there is, of course, a generous presence of Nick Drake, John Martyn, Iain Matthews, Nick Cave, and other musicians who took the folk and folk-rock genres well outside themselves, entering into a grittily silky faeryland of progressive tendencies, an emotional milieu straddling the landscapes of Sparta and Tennyson.
Distinctly arch ringing exaltation tears through the veils as well, as in River in the Pines, which would have been a prime addition to any October Project CD, or Plainsong, or Mission UK laying out in threnodic wistfulness. Carter also located the perfect foil in Sasha Dobson, whose vocals complement his own encanting most sonorously. And you won't know the guy was operatically trained until various of certain song's passages start ramping up into the skies (first in the opening cut, All the Pretty Little Horses, and then elsewhere). We saw this same process in such singers as Burton Cummings and Ronnie James Dio, but Carter comes from a much more literary bent, half the songs his own, half classics of Americana, but every cut delivered amid Poe-inspired dramaturgy.
If this CD doesn't make your heart hurt, your soul ache, and your inner Byron cry out, then contact Mr. Carter 'cause you're already crossing the River Styx, and he'd sure like to get your travelogue for his next set of opuses. The rest of us will just sigh and pine in the darkness, and then set the disc through its paces again as we pour another cup of absinthe and belladonna. Songs for a Traveler is seamless, a tapestry of mellifluity and subtlety, a canvas of autumn shades and old sunlight, of leaves fluttering to the ground as a bell rings softly in the distance. And if you hear its call, take care not to follow too quickly. There's a reason it doesn't blare out its presence.