For some reason, the best traditionalists often subvert expectations. Then again, it might not be fair to call Sarah Louise Henson a traditionalist; her solo music has drawn from a variety of sources, mostly described with elaborate names that really just mean “Appalachian.” With her acoustic 12-string picking, her playing hints at American primitivism, but she distinctly avoids following Fahey, and her own tunings and approach have led to a notably personalized style. Whatever the roots—American or otherwise—her music (if we were to dismiss the labor and artistry behind it) seems to emerge from the natural world, and that connection becomes clear with new album Deeper Woods.

This third solo album follows a collaborative breakthrough of sorts, last year’s self-titled House and Land album performed with Sally Anne Morgan. The duo stretched the folk sounds even further, twisting convention and bringing drone sounds fully into the work. Back now primarily on her own, Henson continues to move further afield. She adds electric guitar, electric piano and synthesizer to more traditional instruments. She also sings; if you didn’t know Henson was a guitarist, you might think she was primarily a vocalist (and you’d still be right).

All of this exploration, even when plugged in, takes place as through pulled from a life spent in the forest, a solitary home visited primarily by chickadees and katydids. With “On Nights When I Can’t Sleep,” Henson finds her way in the moonlight, comfortable but aware of her isolation, singing into the air. The guitar moves in and out as the mood warrants, a technical exhibit representing a stream-of-consciousness sleeplessness. Emmalee Hunnicutt’s cello and Tyler Damon’s chimes enhance the song’s strangeness, Henson’s vision as isolated as her cabin.

“Pipevine Swallowtails” uses Morgan’s fiddle to draw out the darkness, sustained notes dimming the hue. The electric piano arrives as a touch of psychedelia. Henson doesn’t stick to actual North Carolina mountains, nor does she retreat into folk habits or Renaissance play. Instead, she performs from a psychological wilderness that remains attached to the physical forests of her inspiration. With opener “Bowman’s Root,” she announces, “Here I sit in wonder/ Here I sit, listening,” and she transforms that patient process of natural discovery into guitar picking, a recording adding an aged feel to the song.

Deeper Woods brings in new instruments and collaborators to create a different kind of wilderness, but the closing number drops partners and accompaniment. On “Fire Pink and Milkweed,” Henson provides her own backing vocals, and as she looks at the night sky, she feels at peace with herself and her environment, until she admits that “I could sleep/ But for the thought of you,” echoing a previous track but adding new emotion to the late-night ramble. Henson exudes inspiration, and Deeper Woods reveals continual ways to explore it, moving in and out of psychic and physical spaces, shifting between isolation and small community, and continually building a distinct environment.

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