Ordering this CD in hard-copy will get you the CD and the DVD, with an original video for every song, a full, live Umbrella Tree show, and two other videos from earlier albums. Completely worth it. Listening to Umbrella Tree is a commitment with no easy outs. That's partially because singer/guitarist Zachary Gresham, singer/keyboardist Jillian Leigh and drummer Derek Pearson completely give themselves over to their live performances-Gresham acting the part of the wiry, animated ringmaster, Leigh the mysterious, girlish coquette and Pearson the focused brute with the precise touch. And the other reason? The three of them never, ever break character or signal that they're being ironic. That would let audience members off the hook, and give them the smug satisfaction of being in on the joke-if it were a joke. 'We're not interested in being ironic,' Gresham says. 'If ironic things occur within a more sincere context, then that's fine. But irony just for it's own sake...I mean, it's poison. If [the band] is successful in seeming consistent, it's because when we're performing and we're doing big things...we're trying to be caricatures of ourselves and not really trying to put on a different character.... The point is I don't feel like it's put-on.' Various aspects of Umbrella Tree-from stage costumes to their detailed, meandering songs-suggest the way children, left to their own devices on a rainy day, engross themselves in fantastically imaginative worlds. Everyone else only discovers how fun the make-believe game-or the band's music-is by forgetting themselves and playing along. Not that Gresham, Leigh and Pearson write juvenile fare. For every halfway silly song ('Souls Are Warm Like Eskimos') there's an expletive ('f***,' for example, in 'Spit Like a Soldier'), a nuanced character sketch ('Uncle William') or a song that brings fears to life ('Child Bride'). In the four years that the band has been playing shows around Nashville and releasing albums on local indie Cephalopod (What Kind of Books Do You Read? in 2006 and The Church and the Hospital in 2008), they've offered something different and engaging from every angle. 'You're playing and you know that 50 percent of the people watching you are people you know personally-or more than 50 percent,' Gresham says. 'There's a tendency to go up in your blue jeans and your T-shirt and play a show for your friends, even if you're doing very good things. And this is not to knock that, because...many of my favorite bands in Nashville go up in their jeans and T-shirts and do it, and they kill me. But we didn't want to do that because we...all feel like a performance is a separate entity from a recording. And if you can make a really fun performance happen, then you're really embracing the fact that you are a visual artist when you're onstage.' Umbrella Tree's new album, The Letter C, expands mightily on the visual aspect of what they do. It's a CD and DVD: 16 tracks of shape-shifting, literary-minded-and thoroughly arresting-indie prog-rock, and a video for each and every one, all directed by Pearson. The music videos don't feature anything as mainstream as the band members playing their instruments, which isn't surprising given how little they're invested in 'making it' commercially. 'You can't bank on that, you know,' says Gresham. 'And that's very liberating not to bank on it.... Then it becomes an art project, very explicitly an art project. And then you really can go as crazy as you want.' - Jewly Hight, NashvilleSCENE Nashville freak folkies Umbrella Tree take the stage at the Mercy Lounge this Thursday for a CD/DVD release party. The trio's new album, The Letter C, continues in the same vein as their previous work--loose and off-beat compositions held down by the distinct vocal dueling between guitarist Zachary Gresham and keyboardist Jillian Franklin. The latter's angelic voice feints and weaves around Gresham's spooky warbling, creating an odd balance of abrasive intonation and harmony. New tracks like album opener "His Majesty Grows Suspicious" and "Souls Are Warm Like Eskimos" are each a mixed bag of country, chamber pop and noise and would easily fit on the group's strong debut What Kind of Books Do You Read? or follow-up The Church and The Hospital. But the band's third release is also an ambitious jump from the norm. In addition to the audio component, the band has coupled the record with a collection of videos, which will be shown on Thursday night as well. - Kyle Swenson, Nashville City paper Sounds Like: Concept albums: not just for Prog anymore. A Few Words: I get my music in a myriad of ways, most of it dubious and downright sneaky. But sometimes I manage to procure a legitimate review copy of an album. It just so happens that my Twitter obsession helped me fill the shoes of 'honest blogger' for once. If Twitter needs another success story, I'm willing to throw Umbrella Tree into the pile. By following a fan's tweet, I got in touch with the band and was very soon getting an earful of their latest album, The Letter C. At first blush the album appears to revolve around a nautical theme. Swaying 3/3 signatures will suddenly shift like the seas into rockier, more disjointed patterns. And with track names like 'Ocean Sober', 'Starfish', and interludes called 'Periscoper' (A through C) it's easy to assume they're taking us down in a lemon-tinged submersible. The lyrics, however, tell a darker story. Despite the cover art, The Letter C isn't about going to sea; it's about what happens to the rest of us. And while the ocean is an oft used metaphor in music, it's depth promises continuous revelations. Swimming among the arias and ballads, the bold melodies and orchestral accompaniments, we hear from characters in the tone of their own broken colloqualisms. In this way, Umbrella Tree casts it's players with heartfelt imagination; players who, like those living in a small fishing village, exhibit two primary emotions: hope and aloneness. The Letter C--a two-disc set including a DVD full of videos--is a troubling album masquerading as a comedy. And like an actress or widow, it puts on a brave face and steps into the light. - Duck & Cover.