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An Insomniac's Tender Midnight Ruminations

Elvis Perkins recounts the midnight ruminations of an insomniac.
Elvis Perkins recounts the midnight ruminations of an insomniac.

Elvis Perkins can't be accused of bowing down to folk-music cliches: His masterful songs are graceful and tender but never whiny or obvious, while Dylan, Cohen and both Buckleys linger as only slight influences. Bolstered by a talented supporting cast — when together, they perform as "Elvis Perkins in Dearland" — his classic folk sound benefits immeasurably from artful, colorful instrumentation. Perkins' new, self-released Ash Wednesday is fleshed out with harmonium, upright bass, marching-band drums and soaring strings.

In "While You Were Sleeping," Perkins recounts the midnight ruminations of an insomniac. The song takes a poetic, meandering stroll through the tangled gardens of nostalgia, as Perkins croons to his sleeping companion, "Did you have that strangest dream before you woke? / 'Cause in your gown, you had the butterfly stroke / Did it escape you like some half-told joke / when you reached for your plume of smoke?" As night turns to daybreak, the instrumentation becomes lush, culminating in sweetly echoing voices and triumphant horns.

The folksinger has an intriguing backstory: His father was actor Anthony Perkins, his mother the photographer Berry Berenson; the former died of complications from AIDS when Elvis Perkins was a teenager, while the latter was a victim of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. These circumstances likely contributed to the undercurrent of sadness in Perkins' music, but they don't mute his songs' welcome and encouraging streak of hope and acceptance.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Kathryn Yu
By day, Kathryn Yu is an Interaction Designer working for a marketing firm in New York City, toiling away at Web sites. By night, she's a freelance photographer and live-music addict. Her photography has appeared in publications like Pitchfork, Rollingstone.com, Thrillist, Gothamist, and more. She often forgets to blog at kathrynyu.com, and is also making a movie.