Fricke's Picks: A Lone Fleet Fox

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In a city of cacophony — Austin during SXSW — the sweetest sound is often the one you strain to hear. Fleet Foxes drummer-singer J. Tillman was a paragon of near-silence in his solo set at an afternoon party on opening day. Playing songs from his new album, Vacilando Territory Blues (Western Vinyl) — a compelling whirl of Laurel Canyon-echo balladry and desolate-psychedelia stomp — Tillman stunned a packed club to attention with bare-minimum versions of "James Blues" and "Master's House": acoustic brushed-chord guitar and a mourning tenor of falling sighs and bluesy diction, like a soft collision of Tims Hardin and Buckley. Stripped of its heavy dusk (dobro, cello, fuzz guitar) on the album, "Barter Blues" was stark, gripping ache, like something from an outtakes reel for David Crosby's 1971 solo LP If I Could Only Remember My Name. Tillman, who has been making his own albums longer than he's been a Fleet Fox (the first of his five, I Will Return, came out in 2005), deserved better than the setting for his later, official SXSW showcase: a ruthlessly noisy bar with bad disco bleeding through the wall from the club next door. But when Tillman sang "Barter Blues" again that night, in my head I could still hear a pin drop.