Tuesday, September 21, 2021

D-Town Brass: “Impossible Voyage” (2016) CD Review

In 2016 D-Town Brass, a wonderfully original big band, recorded a soundtrack for the 1904 silent film The Impossible Voyage, Georges Méliès’ sequel (sort of) to A Trip To The Moon. The Impossible Voyage is a humorous film about scientific exploration of the sun, and it pokes fun at the rich and inept, and includes plenty of physical comedy, including pratfalls and such, as well as ridiculous vehicles crashing into buildings and rushing off of cliffs. Eventually, the characters are able to get one of their vehicles into space, and – in a shot similar to that famous image from A Trip To The Moon – there is a face in the sun. This time, instead of the ship hitting the face in the eye, it flies into the face’s mouth as the sun appears to be yawning. That image is used as the cover for the D-Town Brass album. If you haven’t seen the film, it is definitely worth watching. And it is even more enjoyable if you play this album by while you do. The first ten tracks of this disc make up the soundtrack to the film, and the music is continuous, one track running into the next.

The album opens with “The Plan,” and you can sense the excitement of certain people at this idea of going off to explore the sun. The music also tells us how goofy the idea is. “The Plan” leads straight into the second track, “Machine Room,” and here we have the insanity of those hard at work on the various gadgets and gizmos that will help take the foolish tourists to the sun. This track is a lot of fun, but it also shows us how these people are taking their activity very seriously, even if we aren’t. There is a sense of mystery in the second half. The work on keyboards at the beginning of “Train Station” feels like the music we might expect to accompany a silent film, which is interesting in itself, coming as more of a surprise from this innovative and unpredictable group of musicians. Later the music begins to sound like a somewhat slowed carnival ride, which actually turns out to be perfect, for the train they are on is like a group of clowns arriving in town. I love the craziness at the end of this track, as the fools burst through a building before plummeting off a cliff, leading to “Crash.” Yes, their work comes to naught, as the vehicle crashes off the cliff rather than flying off into space, a low moment for our intrepid travelers. But everyone is all right, of course. This is a comedy, after all.

Upon emerging from the hospital, these folks are ready and eager to get right back to it, and their next vehicle waits for them just outside. The music gives us the sense of the people as performers in a flea circus, ushered aboard to entertain us as they almost certainly are again heading for trouble. But then, something magical happens, and the music reflects that. Their insane attempts are successful, and the train flies off into space toward the sun. “Sun Treader” is a short track as the vehicle ends up in the sun’s mouth, much to the sun’s displeasure. That’s followed by “Landing,” another short track, which heralds the group’s arrival in somewhat triumphant sounds. But there are some dark tones here too.

“Problems” is one of the coolest tracks, even as our travelers suffer from the extreme heat of the sun. It’s a good thing they’ve brought their Glacier Ice Tank with them. These silly folks did think ahead. However, the setting on that tank was a bit too cold for people, and soon they need to thaw out, the music here stressing the trouble, the worry. Clearly they’ve had enough of the sun, and return to their ship. Percussion begins “Underwater,” while our group of would-be heroes manages to drift off the sun and land in the ocean back on Earth, where at first they enjoy watching the sea life in peace, but soon some strange undersea monster threatens them. This is another of my favorite tracks. Percussion also begins “Processional,” the final track of the film’s soundtrack. Here there is a joyful sense and an excitement, sounding like a parade, a celebration, as the folks emerged unscathed from their journeys, likely having learned nothing. But, oh, what fun!

The film is only a little more than eighteen minutes, so this disc contains several other tracks, beginning with “Fluoridation Station,” which quickly establishes a great groove, one to get your body moving. And, hey, we can’t help but think that our bodies are crazy machines too, just like that train flying off into the sun. Right? The blood is pumping, and we get the sense there are tiny creatures hard at work to make sure everything is running smoothly. But don’t think about that, just dance and enjoy yourselves. Then toward the end, things get strange. Has the machinery gone on the fritz? Who knows what it might do in that case? Ah, but things get fixed, and the groove resumes. That’s followed by “Cosmo.” When I see the word “Cosmo,” I think of two people: Doug Clifford (drummer of CCR) and Richard O’Brien (who wrote The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Shock Treatment, and played Dr. Cosmo McKinley in the latter). As this track begins, it is definitely in more of a Richard O’Brien realm than a Doug Clifford realm, for there is a strange science fiction vibe to this, keeping with the theme of the main portion of the album. This track creates an odd environment where you get the sense things are being attempted, and there are hints of intrigue, with someone sneaking around behind the machinery.

“Every Inkwell” is one of the most interesting tracks, with its own particular world and vibe. Just let it take you where it will. The instruments feel like characters, and you just want to watch them interact. Or listen to them interact, I suppose. Also, I enjoy the percussion. That’s followed by “The Hum Drum,” which, as you might expect, begins with drums, soon developing a good, steady beat, while the horns then offer their own thoughts and observations. The track begins to build from there, turning into a lively beast. The disc then concludes with “Meatpackers Union,” which features another strong and delicious groove, the band jamming on it and leaving us all happy.

CD Track List

  1. The Plan
  2. Machine Room
  3. Train Station
  4. Crash
  5. Journey To The Sun
  6. Sun Treader
  7. Landing
  8. Problems
  9. Underwater
  10. Processional
  11. Fluoridation Station
  12. Cosmo
  13. Every Inkwell
  14. The Hum Drum
  15. Meatpackers Union

Impossible Voyage was released in 2016.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The California Country Show Returns To Americanafest

Americanafest is happening this week in Nashville, Tennessee. Yes, in person. There are many panels and seminars scheduled, but what is most important, of course, is the music, and one event in particular looks especially appealing – The California Country Show, which is scheduled for Friday, September 24th, from noon to 6 p.m. The lineup features some excellent artists, including Ted Russell Kamp, Chris Pierce, and Dead Rock West. This show will take place at the Acme Feed & Seed at 101 Broadway in Nashville.

Ted Russell Kamp is scheduled to kick off the show at noon. If you’ve never seen him, I highly recommend checking out his set. And if you aren’t going to make it to Nashville this week, you should listen to some of the albums he’s released, including Solitaire, which was released earlier this year, and Down In The Den, which came out last year. Ted Russell Kamp is also part of the trio Stash (with Joey Peters and Rich McCulley), and they have an album scheduled for a November release.  Dead Rock West follows. You can hear Dead Rock West on Ram On: The 50th Anniversary Tribute To Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram, which was released in May. On that album, they perform “Eat At Home.” The lineup also includes The Wild West, LadyCouch, The Whitmore Sisters, The Mastersons, Chris Pierce, Garrison Starr, Sam Outlaw, Jonathan Tyler, and Brian Wright & The Sneak Ups. Chris Pierce is an excellent vocalist, and he’s been releasing some important material, including “Mercy,” which he recorded with Sunny War (as War & Pierce), and “Young, Black And Beautiful,” a powerful and moving song. Each artist is given a limited time to perform at this event, but this is a great way to hear several talented artists. The show is going to be hosted by Dave Bernal of The California Country Radio Show.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Blue Glass: “Jardin Des Étoiles” (2021) Vinyl Review

Blue Glass is the project of Michael Shunk, a musician based in Seattle. His new double album, Jardin Des Étoiles, is a departure from the previous release, 2019’s Pale Mirror, this one featuring all instrumental tracks, mood pieces to help transport us from our current cares, each track creating an interesting atmosphere. The instruments used on this album are synthesizers and guitars. The album is partly inspired by the work of French film director Chris Marker, and there is a line from Chris Marker quoted on the inside of the album’s gatefold: “We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.” Seems in that case that our own past is just as difficult to see clearly as the world’s past, and that certainly rings true. While listening to this album, then, we tend to rewrite our own memories, inspired by the music, and what we end up with is just as true as anything else we remember. This double album is presented on clear orange vinyl.

Side A

The album opens with “Jardin I,” which begins by helping us clear away our surrounding reality and enter a dreamscape, the steady tones pushing away the day’s concerns. And once we are there, once this track has us, it comes into sharper focus, with brighter colors, a sun rising over what at first seems a desolate world, a place you might expect to find tranquility, or at least solitude, loneliness. But there is a greater intelligence behind the landscape, a sense of control from both above and below, and we find we don’t have to walk in order to move; we can remain still, eyes closed, and enter into its domain. Interestingly, once that happens, it lets us go, having accomplished what it set out to do. Then with “Jardin II” we are taken into memory, splashes, or shards of memory reflected in glass, in crystal, which we can gaze into, contemplate, if we so choose. Yet we are disconnected from the images, as if we know they don’t quite represent reality. The person then is not the person now. Besides, we know that nothing from the past, nothing revealed here, can cause any harm. And once we realize that, we see the beauty of the place, and of our own lives, however fleeting they may be. We soon might find ourselves drifting away farther from the present, yet also distant from the memories, into the shadows of those reflections, and there is a letting go, a sense of peace.

Side B

As “Jardin III” begins, there is an approaching light, a physical presence that we can see and experience, a joy. It seems from without at first, but as it gets closer, it seems to come from within as well. Or perhaps there is a merging, and once that happens we are aware of a darker element within. There are other voices. This is not strictly a one-on-one experience, as we might first have believed. But we are all on a similar journey, just with differing perspectives and reactions. There is even fear here, but that doesn’t touch us in any way that would mar our own experience, or keep us from this particular journey. Then “Jardin IV” opens with a warmer, deeper voice gently calming us, removing whatever fears might remain. This voice we can feel in our chests as well as our heads, and there is an undeniable comfort, even pleasure, in having it pass through our bodies, this gentle intelligence meeting but not possessing us. There also seems to be a curiosity on both sides, a willingness to learn, and we are provided the space for it, for an exploration within. This is a pleasant place whose beauty seems to have no beginning, and certainly no end, and we feel safe drifting within.

Side C

“Jardin V” eases in, coming in waves that gently wash our way and eventually over us, and we glean a little more information with each successive wave, a greater sense of where we are. It is like an intelligence reaches out to us, and finding us receptive, becomes more bold, more forward, ready to take us on a journey. And before we realize it, we must have entered one of those waves, for now it is as if we ourselves are traveling toward others, that we’ve become part of the intelligence. What a strange sensation, that we have something to present to others when only a moment before we were eager to receive. Yet then it begins to recede from both them and us. Or are we receding from ourselves with it? Then “Jardin VI” takes us to a more grounded place. Still the information comes in waves, but these are more solid, less ethereal. They are more set in memories that have shape, and an emotional strength that solidifies them in our mind. We can hold these thoughts, these memories in our hands, and without worry of damaging them or changing them, perhaps because the changes have already occurred. Somehow they remain inside us even as they fade.

Side D

The double album concludes with “Jardin VII,” this one feeling different right from the opening, for there is an intensity, a bright powerful tone, a light that surrounds and envelops, sweeping us up in a manner that is less gentle than before. There is no question but that it is taking us where it desires. And yet within that there is some exchange, an easing of tension, even as the movement is undoubtedly forward. And as with everything else, it too then fades.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Jardin I
  2. Jardin II

Side B

  1. Jardin III
  2. Jardin IV

Side C

  1. Jardin V
  2. Jardin VI

Side D

  1. Jardin VII

Jardin Des Étoiles was released on July 16, 2021.

D-Town Brass: “Golden Belt” (2013) Vinyl Review

D-Town Brass is a big band jazz ensemble that doesn’t play traditional big band jazz tunes, or even sound like they have any interest in playing them. Instead, these musicians use those instruments to create their own style, their own sound, taking their listeners to all sorts of exciting and unexpected places, and mixing in elements from other musical realms. The group is made up of Andy Magowan on keyboards, Bob Wall on bass, Robert Biggers on drums, Brendan Love on percussion, Ken Moshesh on percussion, Matt Vooris on percussion and xylophone, Steve Carter on vibraphone, Bob Pence on baritone saxophone and alto saxophone, Ben Riseling on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Matt Busch on tenor saxophone, Steve Cowles on baritone saxophone, Andy Shull on trumpet, Jeff Herrick on trumpet, Hank Pellerin on trombone, and Rob Mossefin on trombone. In 2013, this group released Golden Belt, an album of original material that is available on vinyl.

Side One

The album opens with “Escape Hatch,” a tune that establishes a delicious groove, one element at a time. Then in come the horns, and things get exciting. This track sounds like the score to a fantastic but unseen 1960s gem, a movie we want to exist, something with gorgeous gals and intrigue. Perhaps this is our hero’s theme as he drinks and quips and fights his way through the rather loose plot. Hell, I want to write the film, just to put this music in it, to put the music where it needs to be. That’s followed by “Slippery Monkeys,” which also begins with percussion, but a different sort of rhythm, giving us the sense of a jungle setting. The horns are playful during that opening section, delivering brief, even tentative thoughts and observations, as we are brought into this world. Then suddenly there is a magnificent burst of color and energy, and we are in it now. There is a great deal of fun to this track, particularly toward the end when it gets even more lively.

As “Slideways” opens, it seems to be sneaking about, and taking us along on its adventure. I love the percussion on this track, and that section where the percussion dominates is one of my favorite parts. There is something dramatic about this track as well, making me wonder if these musicians are film buffs. An oft quoted line from Heraclitus tells us we can never step into the same river twice. Well, here the band offers “Same River Once,” as honest a song title as one could imagine. This river is no calm stream, nothing to drift down on a lazy sunny afternoon. No, this river is alive with activity. You get the sense of other people in there, perhaps below the surface, and likely up to no good. Yeah, there is magic in there too, but it’s not yours to control. Watch your footing. There is a fifth, unlisted track on this side, “No Lock, No Key.” This is the only track on the record to feature vocals. “No lock, no key/No key, no lock/Open the door, open the door/Open the door, open the door.” And soon things get pretty wild.

Side Two

The second side opens with “Camberwell Carrot.” A cool rhythm and style transports us to a place where we can be loose with our own sense of ourselves, and maybe live, at least for a short period, in some alternate, dream version of ourselves that is created in part by the music itself. Who doesn’t have, at times, spectacular visions of themselves, how they wish to be seen? Well, here that vision manifests. Just be careful to return before the track ends, or ribbons of self may be lost to this other realm. That’s followed by “The Hectic Metric,” and right from the start, this one is about movement, motion, and at a hurried pace. Not just individuals, but crowds are in motion, the world at large moving about. There is even a tribal sense to it, particularly in that section with hand claps. And I love that work on saxophone. This is an exciting piece.

We are taken to a smoother, softer spot at the beginning of “A Close Call.” This one too has a strong sense of place, this band being able to create vibrant settings and transport us there with ease. Once we are there, the group allows things to get more intense, and at a certain point we suddenly find ourselves on the run. From what, we’re not sure, but it is imperative we keep moving, and fast. Again, there is a cinematic sense here, and a delicious intensity to the playing. The album then ends with “Zombie Rag.” There may be a slight hesitancy at the start, but soon we burst onto the dance floor. This is at a club where the doors may be bolted to prevent escape, but we don’t care, just as long as the rhythm continues, and the liquor flows. As long as the night lasts, and there is the sense that might be forever. During the dance, some of us – or perhaps all of us – pass over to the other side, but hardly anyone takes notice. Things are too good for such trivial concerns.

Record Track List

Side One

  1. Escape Hatch
  2. Slippery Monkeys
  3. Slideways
  4. Same River Once
  5. No Lock, No Key

Side Two

  1. Camberwell Carrot
  2. The Hectic Metric
  3. A Close Call
  4. Zombie Rag

Golden Belt was released on May 18, 2013.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

D Town Brass: “Demiurge” (2020) CD Review

D-Town Brass (or D Town Brass, as the band’s name reads on this album) is an exciting and innovative group mixing jazz with funk and psychedelic elements to form not only its own sound, but its own realm. Don’t worry, however, for there are plenty of access points into this realm for those of us from other places and dispositions. And once you’re in, you’re in. The group is based in Durham, North Carolina, and is made up of Andrew Magowan on keys, Steve Carter on vibes, Bob Wall on bass, Robert Biggers on drums, Ken Moshesh on percussion, Matt Young on drums and piano, Bob Pence on saxophone and bass clarinet, Steve Cowles on baritone saxophone, Matt Busch on tenor saxophone, Ben Riseling on tenor saxophone, Todd Hershberger on bassoon and alto saxophone, Andy Shull on trumpet, Rob Mossefin on trombone, Danny Grewen on trombone, and Jeff Herrick on trumpet. The group’s most recent album, last year’s Demiurge, features all original material, with four of the members contributing tunes. Most of the tracks are instrumentals.

It’s rather daring and humorous to open an album with a track titled “Horse Fucker,” but this group of musicians is certainly not cowardly or cautious. As this track starts, it sounds like creatures gathering before a rumble, sharpening claws or knives, and strutting a bit. There is excitement, and some nervous tension, each element preparing in its own way, while that heavy bass keeps things grounded and focused. And then nearly a minute and a half in, a signal is given, and things come together, the players or combatants combining their strengths, and building toward something unspoken but understood. Then there is a sudden release before the end. I had a feeling I was going to love this album just from glancing at the track list on the back of the CD case. Following “Horse Fucker” is a tune titled “Corporate Life Form.” And yeah, once it gets going, this one has a busy, hurried vibe, as if the corporate creature is rushing around, taking itself oh too seriously. Then someone shouts out, “The corporate life form must not be allowed to escape planet Earth.” And, hell, I can’t help but agree. This is bloody great, and is one of only a few tracks to feature lyrics, delivered as spoken word. Check out these lines: “The corporate life form is a toxic culture virus/That turns the sacred beauty of the universe/Into the Home Shopping Network/The starving worm that eats love and shits its cancerous desires into human shapes/ Blank-souled half-men who want all of the power but none of the responsibility.” I am completely on board with this song, this album, this band.  You know, occasionally you find that someone is from your planet, is one of your species. Well, here they are. “Once your memories are the property of Facebook, Google, Disney, Viacom/Once your secret dreams and wishes have been turned into the coolest new fad and sold back to you.” This line also stands out: “The universe will be just another underdeveloped country, the ultimate emerging market.” I could quote this entire track, because it’s all worth quoting, but here is just one more bit: “At that point the dead, sanitized Disney corpse of human culture will expand to fill all that free space with the infinite plastic trivia that is its only true product.” Hell, if perhaps you can’t quite sing along to this, no matter, for this song will have you cheering. That is, unless you’re one of those soulless scoundrels at the dark heart of the machinery, like Mark Zuckerberg or anyone in the Trump Organization.

Things take a different turn at the beginning of “Cobbler’s Dream,” introducing other strange characters, demented gnomes happily tinkering with some unusual machine.  And then, bam, a larger sound comes in, while the tinkering continues, a meeting of the small with the great, to fulfill some surreal goal. And perhaps that’s done in just a couple of minutes, because then we find ourselves on the dance floor, grooving to a totally delicious rhythm, all of us – gnomes, humans, and whoever else might be drawn by the sounds, just about anyone with ears to hear, I imagine. Even snakes are bidden to rise from their wicker baskets and take part. That’s followed by “Cheap Dimensions,” which begins in a rather chaotic place, everyone wanting to speak at once. After a moment we come into some strange clearing, with a deep welcoming voice. Others circle that voice and us, and we begin to suspect someone has slipped us something, and we’re not upset at all as the psychedelics take hold, and we relax. We feel ready for whatever might come, but then it’s suddenly over. Then “Late Melody” has an oddly electronic vibe, like computers are singing to us as we make our way through a busy day. Yet there is nothing stressful about the day. Instead, it is kind of cheerful, like we’re happy to be a part of something bigger. Then things settle down, as day passes into evening, and we find a cocktail in our hands and time to reflect. Ah yes, this is how things should be. But then, ah, there is more work to be done and we are back into it. The two worlds collide. Or perhaps it’s the alcohol. Has the computer been drinking again? This world runs itself, just so long as I remain somewhat near my post, and keep pumping the system with alcohol.

I’ve always thought “human resources” was a strange title for a department in a business, and kind of twisted too, like they’re mining people, farming people, feeding people into a machine, which I suppose is what they are doing. Anyway, I knew this band would have its own feelings about the matter and the phrase in the track “Human Resources,” and perhaps there is something darker here at the beginning, and rather forceful, yet accepted. And then it becomes more human, as if we are using our own resources, or perhaps we’ve just become more immersed in the machine. That’s followed by “Death Sentence,” and the clock is ticking right from the start. Sometimes we wonder just how much time we have, how much time this planet has, and lately things have not been looking good for any of us. This track features spoken word about the state of the world: “And each summer is hotter than the one before/Complete strangers read your email, listen to your phone calls/Keep track of what you buy, what you read, who you know, who you are, who you wish to become/And the cops run like ancient barbarians, killing as they please/An invading army of cowards.” And all the while the clock continues to tick, as we edge past the point of no return. How many moments are left? “Everything shifts and shifts until you have to be so fucking weird just to be normal/So weird your own grandparents wouldn’t recognize you/Someone said we should remove the human element/And you say, let’s do it, let’s remove my human element.” I hate feeling angry, but when I’m not feeling angry I feel like an idiot. Things are tense in this track, jazz with a punk attitude, but things are tense everywhere.

“Greasy Rider” takes us out into the street, where sirens blare and things are hectic. Yet that pulse remains steady, that bass holding true while things burst into flames and crumble around it. And we wonder, are we the bass, or are we part of the insanity around it? I love the percussion on this album, and on this track in particular. The wonderful percussion continues in “Good Cop,” which follows. And yes, there are some good cops. I’ve met a few. This one has a cool vibe, like we’re on the beat with a plainclothes detective in some city where jazz is king and women are dangerous and it is always night and everyone is able to say just the right thing at the right time. We meet a very different type of night-time creature in the disc’s final track, “Demon,” which also features spoken word, gathering us together to enlighten us: “A lot of religious people have been coming around here/Trying to tell you about the good news/And we all see how that’s turned out/I'm here to give you the bad news.” And he screams at us about the demon, like the craziest preacher you can imagine. But this is no clergy man. “It’s a demon that decides he needs to bomb the brown people because he can’t think of anything constructive to do/And it’s demon that guides our trigger fingers while we stand by and say to ourselves, We had no choice!/We thought he had a gun!/There’s just not enough to go around!/Or my personal favorite, God told us to do it.” It seems the demon runs unfettered these days, and the crazies are beginning to outnumber the rest of us. The lunatics and the idiots have found a taste for power in the last five years, and now they will do absolutely anything to hold onto power, even killing those that gave them that power by telling them not to get vaccinated, not to wear masks. This is a fucked up time, no question. But recognizing the demon is a solid first step, which many cannot take. And, you know, a really great groove develops here, something we can sink our teeth into while we are here.

CD Track List

  1. Horse Fucker
  2. Corporate Life Form
  3. Cobbler’s Dream
  4. Cheap Dimensions
  5. Late Melody
  6. Human Resources
  7. Death Sentence
  8. Greasy Rider
  9. Good Cop
  10. Demon

Demiurge was released on December 9, 2020.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Club Passim Pays Tribute To Nanci Griffith

The song that turned me on to Nanci Griffith was “It’s A Hard Life Wherever You Go,” which – if I recall correctly – I heard on WERS in the very late 1980s when I was getting seriously into folk music. Soon after that I heard “Love At The Five And Dime,” which of course has a very different tone, and by then I was completely hooked. Last month Nanci Griffith died. I still hadn’t gotten used to John Prine being gone (hell, I’m only now starting to come to terms with Leonard Cohen’s death), and Nanci Griffith’s passing hit me kind of hard. It hit a lot of music fans that way. On September 24th, Club Passim is going to give folks a chance to come together and celebrate her music with a tribute to this phenomenal singer and songwriter. I wish I could be there. The lineup features Chris O’Brien, Kim Moberg, Lindsay Foote, Ric Allendorf, Rob Siegel, and Tracy Grammer & Jim Henry, among several others. Tickets are only $15, and the show starts at 7 p.m. For more information, including the full lineup, visit Club Passim’s website.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Anya Hinkle: “Eden And Her Borderlands” (2021) CD Review

Anya Hinkle is a talented singer and songwriter known for her work in the bands Dehlia Low and Tellico, and known for her skill in telling engaging stories through song. Eden And The Borderlands is her debut solo album, and it features mostly original material, written or co-written by Anya Hinkle. Much of this material was released as singles over the past year, and now these gems are together, along with some material we haven’t heard before. Joining Anya Hinkle on this album are Billy Cardine on dobro, Julian Pinelli on fiddle and vocals, DaShawn Hickman on pedal steel, Graham Sharp on banjo and vocals, Mary Lucey on clawhammer banjo and vocals, Thomas Cassell on mandolin, Duncan Wickel on cello, Daniel Kimbro on bass, Johnny Calamari on bass, Jon Weisberger on bass, Wendy Hickman on vocals, and Nick Falk on drums.

Anya Hinkle opens the album with its title track, “Eden And Her Borderlands,” a beautiful song that features some nice work on pedal steel and dobro. There is something soothing about this song; partly it is the honesty and humanity of her voice and her delivery, partly it’s that pedal steel, and partly it is the song’s gentle groove. And then of course there is the song’s subject, the idea that the journey toward a paradise is a journey within, that we can get to – or perhaps in a sense already are at – the outskirts, the edges of some sort of paradise. It is a warming idea in these days where the focus seems to be on the divisions among people. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And when I get there, gonna let you know/I’ve reached the border where the sycamores grow/The path was twisted, some of my turns were wrong/Like a dream I had once but now it’s gone.” There is also something refreshing in the line “some of my turns were wrong,” because the overriding sense in recent days and years seems to be an unwillingness to admit mistakes, and so there is no learning from them. In this song, there is hope and a sense of possibilities within reach. It is a great way to kick off the album.

The world feels more uncertain these days. The last five years have been difficult for most of us, and perhaps partly because of these strange times the first line of “Lady Luck” stands out: “Tough choices are the ones you make when questions have no answers.” It seems there are more questions and fewer answers, and we could all use a visit from Lady Luck as we take closer looks at our own lives, and try to figure out if we’re on the best path. “Yeah, I guess I always thought one day I’d settle in my stride/That something would add up from all the different things I tried.” Those lines in particular stand out for me. This is a time of reflection for many of us, though also with the understanding that time doesn’t halt for reflection. Check out these lines: “I think I know why old folks like to sit on their front porches/Soak the hours in gasoline and burn them up like torches/Because if you’re lucky to make it, the weight’s gonna break every bough.” This is one of those songs that allow you a good reflective cry if you need it. The gentle sound of it seems to say it’s okay, go ahead, let it go.

“I Belong To The Band” is a more lighthearted, cheerful tune. This is one that was released as a single back in January. It is also one of only two tracks that Anya Hinkle didn’t write. It was written by Gary Davis. Her version still has some of that gospel and blues feel of the original, but goes more into the bluegrass realm and features some wonderful work on fiddle and mandolin. Here she sings she belongs to “that Asheville band.” That’s followed by “Road Of The Winds,” which was also released as a single. In fact, it was the first single released from this album, back in April of 2020. This song is about the desire for motion, for making changes, and it is ultimately hopeful and positive, giving us a feeling of capability of making changes in our own lives. “Storms have passed, skies have cleared/In the vastness, in my little boat, just sitting here/Not afraid, not without fear/With the faith of a mariner I cross the hemisphere/It’s time to go/Time to go.”

“Hills Of Swannanoa” was the second single released from this album, and was co-written by Akira Satake. This song, which has a beautiful and exciting sound, tells the true story of a flood that took place approximately a hundred years ago. Of course, flooding is a topic on people’s minds these days, and with climate change, we can expect more storms and floods. This song, I suspect, will speak strongly to a lot of folks, not just because of its timeliness, but because of the human story within its context. Check out these lines: “Pulled the trestle from its footing/The house from its foundation/The root from the rock it’s covering/Drowned the prisoners in the penitentiary/Then the waves, the black waves, waves of water, they took hold/Folded over and pulled her in.” Plus, there is a wonderful instrumental section at the end. That’s followed by “My Faithful Sparrow,” a song that is incredibly pretty, both in the guitar work and her vocal performance. “You stay/With me/Even though/I might be feeling so low/You stand here with me.” Like “Hills Of Swannanoa” and “Road Of The Winds,” this one mentions storms: “And when these storms have passed/Sing your sweet song for me/Carry me.”

“What’s It Gonna Take” is another timely song, this one addressing the violence stemming from the systemic racism in this country. It was co-written by Graham Sharp, who plays banjo and sings on it, and it also features some excellent vocal work by Wendy Hickman along with Anya Hinkle. “What’s it gonna take/To finally break these walls in between/What’s gotta give/To finally live the American dream/Tell me, what’s it gonna take.” This track also features moving work on pedal steel, and is one of my personal favorite tracks. It was released as a single in February. That single was followed in March by “Meditation: Beyond The Shores Of Darkness,” a beautiful instrumental track. It’s been a dark time, no question about it, and this tune acknowledges that, and also tries to help us emerge from it. “Why Women Need Wine” was also released as a single, and is the song that got me excited about this album. The song has a clear and important message, and delivers it with humor. “You can speak up, girl, if time allows/But nobody wants to hear you whine/Grow up, but not over thirty-nine/Is why women need wine.” This track also features some wonderful work on fiddle. I expect this song will be greatly appreciated and enjoyed, by men as well as women.

“That’s How Every Empire Falls” is the album’s second cover, written by R. B. Morris, and included on his Spies Lies And Burning Eyes album. John Prine recorded a version of it, including it on Fair & Square. Marianne Faithfull included her own rendition on Horses And High Heels. What’s crazy to me is that all three of those versions are from before the previous administration took up residence in the White House, for this song strikes an even stronger chord these days when that racist gameshow host might be out of office but his sycophants and disciples still follow his lead. It’s an excellent song, and one folks ought to pay attention to, with lines like “For when religion loses vision/That’s how every empire falls” and “For when the heart is never open/That’s how every empire falls.” And check out these lines: “A bitter wind blows through the country/Hard rain falls upon the sea/If terror comes without a warning/There must be something we don’t see/What fire begets this fire?/Like torches thrown into the straw/If no one asks, no one will answer/That’s how every empire falls.” The album concludes with “Merciful Dawn,” featuring more beautiful vocal work. It’s a song that reaches out to us, and we can use as many of those as we can get. “Don’t you sing, don’t you sing a sad song/Though the road is long/And it’s a long time coming home/Don’t you sing a sad song alone.”

CD Track List

  1. Eden And Her Borderlands
  2. Lady Luck
  3. I Belong To The Band
  4. Road Of The Winds
  5. Hills Of Swannanoa
  6. My Faithful Sparrow
  7. What’s It Gonna Take
  8. Meditation: Beyond The Shores Of Darkness
  9. Why Women Need Wine
  10. That’s How Every Empire Falls
  11. Merciful Dawn

Eden And Her Borderlands was released on July 16, 2021 on Organic Records.