Embleton

This is an older review of the Embleton’s It Did Me Well, originally posted on this site in March of 2015:

In the song, “Leaving for Good”, Kevin Embleton and his band sing of a wandering friend, caught up in a desire to leave town and find meaning in destinations afar. The road-trippy strings of a country pedal steel guide his journey into the unknown while Kevin himself laments over electric chords. The melodies bounce from gentle to melancholic to rocking, like any good alt-country song should. But the lyrics, so full of ambiguity and mystery, set it apart.

“Leaving for Good” is the first single off of the band’s upcoming full-length record, It Did Me Well, releasing March 10. The song perfectly represents what makes the music of Embleton so communal and so relevant: Kevin paints his songs with bold imagery but omits key details. The listener must draw upon their own experiences to fill in the gaps. Amid country waltzes and strummed melodies, everyone shares the same humanity, the same emotions, the same story.

You can listen to and purchase the album at itunes, amazon or bandcamp. For more information, visit Embletonmusic.com.

lenny

This is an older review of the Lenny Smith’s Who Was and Is and Is To Come, originally posted on this site in July of 2012:

It’s been an odd couple of weeks, what with hurricanes sweeping through cities and towns, politicians battling over the fate of the world, rumors of wars and so forth.  Waters have risen and subsided.  Lights have dimmed and become alive again.  Doomsday prophets and naysayers abound, as they always have, and more will come I’m sure.

Amidst it all, there arrives the new Lenny Smith album, Who Was and Is and Is To Come (released on Great Comfort Records), a mix of 60s style folk and rock tunes inspired by the artist’s lifelong search of an unknown Creator.  In stark contrast to the turmoil of the times, Smith enters quietly.  Gently fingerpicking a sparse folk melody, drawing upon his many hours of scripture reading, Smith sings the first song he ever wrote,

Then I saw a new Heaven— and a new Earth, the New Jerusalem.

As a young seminary student in the 1960s, Smith would hide in the closet at night, writing songs and reading scripture.  The strange poetry of Revelation and its pronouncement of a New Jerusalem struck a deep chord.

God Himself will wipe every tear from their eyes

and death shall be no more.

As the album progresses, we get glimpses of Smith at different stages of his journey, from the theology obsessed student putting melodies to the psalms (“As a Doe Longs for Running Streams”), to the wizened grandfather looking back on all he’s learned (“All the Earth Worships You”).

You are the love I feel inside

And Your love won’t be denied…

Smith’s words are void of brimstone.  His ruminations are simple, sometimes hushed, as he beckons to hear that still, small voice.  But the journey isn’t just about introspection.   It’s about celebration.  Along the way, his many friends, children and grandchildren join in, elatedly plucking strings, playing keys and shouting along in joyous unity.

There is something very fitting about it all.  While so many are calling down fire from heaven, eagerly awaiting a swift vengeance, Smith is gently up turning evidence of his Maker in the quiet spaces; beneath sheets of darkness and layers of corrosion; in the trees and rocks, and inside of his very soul.  “The earth”, he writes in the liner notes, “knows something”.  These are words of reconciliation and healing that we could all use right now.

Who Was and Is and Is To Come is available at http://lennysmith.bandcamp.com/

bright

This is an older review of the Wonderful Mountain’s “Bright Week”, originally posted on this site in July of 2013.

At the beginning of his new album, Bright Week, Chad Marine (a.k.a. the Wonderful Mountain) sings of Saint Antony, the patron of lost things and people. Over a rushed guitar strum, the artist sings,

I fell into the flood

In body and in blood

And I came up bright.

Though the words are profound and spoken with outright seriousness, the song borders on joviality (a far stretch from Marine’s previous work), but I suspect it’s with good reason.  He says that the album coincided with his Baptism through the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The songs seem to reflect that Baptism, and the pilgrimage that led to it.  They are populated by holy Saints of the tradition, by moments of spiritual clarity, and by a renewed sense of joy.  He says that there was nothing specific tying the songs together, but listening to them, I can hear themes of rebirth and restoration (and the joy that follows) written all over it.

He translates the tale of martyred Saint Catherine and the paranormal destruction of a torture wheel into a rousing folk number that sounds like a lost Carter Family song.  He draws inspiration from the old story of the righteous pelican that wounded herself to feed her young.  The stories are ancient, passed down for generations, but they’re full of spiritual vigor and brimming with holy relevance.

There has always been a heavy sense of impending righteousness in Marine’s songs, and though it’s still here, his focus has turned to something that’s, well, brighter.   Near the end of the album, perhaps guided home by Saint Antony himself, the artist casts off the pessimism of the world and sheds that unholy darkness that so easily binds us.  He gently beckons,

Let’s sing no more songs of hopelessness…

Amazing what a little divine perspective can do.

Bright Week can be found at https://thewonderfulmountain.bandcamp.com/album/bright-week

Benjamin

It’s easy to sink into indifference. Looking out upon a world drenched in blood and smoke, it’s tempting to turn your back—to hitch a first class ticket onto a gospel train bound for Glory, while the world is left to smolder along the track. That is why it’s necessary to have a folk singer like David Benjamin Blower around. Blower follows a long line of prophets and protest singers—from Elijah to Woody Guthrie—who shift our gaze outward, to the greed and exploitation that burns in the world. His latest record, Welcome the Stranger, is immediate and fierce, drawing on the empirical imagery of the Old and New Testaments, and the Dust Bowl tunes of Guthrie, reminding us all that the world didn’t get better after the dust of the Great Depression settled. He sings of the displaced and the refugee, giving voice to their hardship. He sings with love, with brutality, and with anger, using his guitar and voice as a jackhammer to smash through the apathy of our age.

You can listen to and purchase the album at https://benjaminblower.bandcamp.com/

All proceeds from the record will go to charities working directly with refugees.