hallowell

When the first Bifrost Arts record came out (Come O’ Spirit), one of its contributors, Joseph Pensak, released a B-side to the record called “Come Unto Me You Weary”.  As with the other Bifrost tunes, the simple hymn stood in vivid contrast to much of the “worship” music of its day.  It had a quiet melody, an unpredictable arrangement, and vocal performances that ache.

Some 10 years later, Pensak has enlisted a number of Vermont (and beyond) musicians, to help him expand on those initial Bifrost outpourings on his new record, Hallowell.  He draws inspiration both far and wide, from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, to ancient hymns, to REM and the Breeders.  These eccentricities fit well with the output of Great Comfort Records, founded by Lenny Smith and family (Danielson).  The Smiths have been recording and releasing gospel music that doesn’t fit the rigid framework of conventional worship music, looking instead to songs that emphasize melody and poetry over structure.  Hallowell fits nicely in this unique catalogue, as Pensak and his friends grapple with faith, with the unknown, with the weight of glory across 10 beautiful tunes.

Hallowell will be released on March 22.  You can purchase the album here and here.

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The apex of Heritage Hill’s debut EP, Out of the Sea, comes about halfway into the album, when the four Vancouver ladies channel Father Abraham himself, to vent what feels like every frustration, every discouragement, and every praise that’s ever come down the pike.  Harmonizing over gentle bluegrass and Americana melodies, the band switches from slow lament to foot stomping worship throughout the song. It’s a haunting tune, sitting within a beautiful debut—one that captures the many brutal sides of faith, and the glory that emerges somewhere over the rise.

You can purchase the album on itunes and Google Play, or stream it on Spotify.  You can also find more information about the band and their ministry here.

Hello dear readers. I’m taking a few short paragraphs out of my regularly scheduled music reviews and write-ups to point you toward a few of my own music projects. I recently released two very different albums that you can listen to or purchase at the links below.

The first is a 70s-style rock and roll project we call “Killbuck”. The album was mostly recorded live onto a Goodwill-purchased tape recorder, at the end of a gravel back road, in a cabin in Killbuck, Ohio.   Matt Kurtz, John Finley, John King, Joe Farr and I collaborated over a love of dark sunglasses, Tom Petty and 3-chord rock songs. The result is our self-titled debut: 11 “heartland-soaked tunes full of Americana angst and Rust Belt blues”.

The second project is a new volume of hymns my friends and I recorded over the past year. Each of us took a different hymn to reinterpret and explore through our individual styles. All profits from the Harp Family Hymnbook: Vol. II will go to Mennonite Central Committee.

You can find Killbuck here , and the Harp Family Hymnbook Vol. II here.

 

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I realized a few days ago, after listening to Lenny Smith’s new record amid the hurricane of a new election season, that the last time Lenny Smith released an album was during an election as well—and a tumultuous one at that. Harsh words were thrown back and forth. Brother turned on brother. And the world was all set to end.

Yet here we are, 4 years later, and the world’s still spinning. The rhetoric feels particularly brutal this time around, but maybe that’s because time really does heal all wounds—even political ones—and we fail to see history repeating itself as time spills out before us. All of this to say that Lenny Smith’s record, “You Are My Hiding Place”, has arrived from Great Comfort Records. It is full of life and love and celebration, and it serves as a nice antidote to the hate and fear that abounds. Once again, Lenny dives deep into scripture, looking to the poetry of the psalmists, of Ruth, of Jesus himself, to gives words to his worship. His family and friends sing and clap and shout along. Really, I think the world could use a little Lenny Smith right now.

You can listen to and purchase the recording at Lenny’s bandcamp page here, or explore more at Great Comfort Records.