ON THEIR MOST RECENT collaboration, HEARTS & DAGGERS (“File Under Music”), Alicia J. Rose (aka accordionist Miss Murgatroid) and violinist/singer Petra Haden create what seems like a whimsical soundtrack to a very moody Ren Faire—an apt sentiment, considering both are renaissance women in their own rights. Rose is a Portland jill-of-all-trades: a gallery-worthy artist, a photographer for local outfits like the Oregon Ballet Theatre, and the booking manager at the Doug Fir Lounge. Haden, daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden, is a virtuoso who has lent her warm strings to albums by the Decemberists and Beck, not to mention recording a complete a cappella reworking of the Who’s The Who Sell Out.
This is the duo’s second album together, and their proven chemistry is consistently charming throughout, with Haden’s plaintive violin complementing Rose’s gently wheezing accordion. At first the record unfurls like a collection of abstract pop songs carried by Haden’s wondrous vocals. But subsequent listens reveal that the best tracks are dense, delicate instrumentals like “Baroque Lullaby,” in which death (in the guise of Rose’s dirgelike accordion) and renewal (filtered through a sprightly violin) joust for the upper hand. By no means antiquated, though, Hearts & Daggers is a modern and moving piece of craftsmanship.