Thursday, June 8, 2023

Bombadil: “In Color” (2023) CD Review

The last Bombadil album, Beautiful Country, came out in the autumn of 2019, six months before the pandemic started shutting things down. Remember that time? It seems so long ago. Since then, Bombadil went from a trio down to a duo, with Stacy Harden, who joined the band in 2015, leaving. The two remaining core members, Daniel Michalak and James Phillips, worked on material for a new album remotely. They had no choice, really, for the two found themselves in different countries as the pandemic changed the face of the music world. And now that album, In Color, is out. A glance at the track list shows a theme, with each of the song titles featuring a color. (And yes, I couldn’t help but think of that old Lucky Charms commercial – “Pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers and blue diamonds” – particularly as the track order has yellow, orange and green in that sequence.) At a time when the world sometimes felt pallid and dull, Bombadil was recognizing vibrant colors all around. The album features all original material, written by Daniel Michalak and James Phillips. Joining them on this release are Skylar Gudasz on flute and vocals; Nick Vandenberg on guitar, bass, keys and vocals; and MK Rodenbough on vocals.

The album opens with “Brown Pennies,” which begins with an electronic beat. The acoustic guitar then works in some contrast to that before the vocals come in. These guys always create interesting sound landscapes. And here there is a gentle, friendly vocal delivery, though the opening lines are surprisingly violent: “We took our piggy bank/Smashed it against the wall.”  And they ask, “Why should I try?/Why should I care anymore?/And why should I pick up brown pennies off the floor?” Those are lines that speak to me, to that uncertain time. But even in their asking, we can hear the answer. It feels a part of the question, a part of their voices. You know? This track ends with a return to a more electronic sound. That’s followed by “Yellow Clouds,” in which they sing, “We’ll swim in the dirty river/Drink beer every day.” This is a song that somehow manifests summer. Something about this band’s sound never fails to make me feel good, to give me a renewed optimism about humanity and life.

“Orange Planets” describes a movie premiere or awards show, capturing a moment, in a sweet-sounding, delightful pop realm. “It was a galaxy of pretty people/Planets floating in the sky/A bowl of oranges spilling on the carpet/Outside.” Then “Green Feelings” begins with a softer, acoustic sound, which is quite pretty. And along with the theme of colors, it opens with these lines: “Every painter needs a paintbrush/Just like I need you.” Those lines remind me that my girlfriend provides my life with more color than I would have imagined possible. “Every book about everything/Feels like it’s about you.” That goes right into “Gray Space,” which begins beautifully, like over a wide-open landscape where the heavens meet the earth, and we can call to anyone on the planet and be heard. Halfway through the track, there is an unexpected shift, in tone, in perspective, in place. And that track in turn moves directly into “Purple Architecture,” which begins with a woman packing her possessions, as if for a move. “Everything she’d ever wanted/Was packed up and put away/She thought she saw his face in a magazine.” The song tells a bit of her story. What is particularly interesting is how it transitions from this woman to a man that she sees in passing, from what she assumes is his life to what actually is his life. A common experience that is not shared, as they remain apart. This is a wonderful song.

“Red Feelings” has an odd opening, building into yet another intriguing sound landscape. “I’m waiting all these hours.” Now that’s a line for the time of the pandemic, eh? And then this short song concludes with this line: “But the sun will come up in the morning.” Ah, yes, again there is that optimism. That’s followed by “Blue And Dark Blue.” I often find myself truly delighted by this band’s lyrics, as is the case here. Check out the opening lines: “Could a folk singer’s manipulation/Get past those gloomy cerulean eyes/Oh I hope so, I hope so, I hope so.” And I love the way that third line is delivered, inviting us to sing along. This song takes an interesting turn partway through, and then there is some surprising whistling. “I’m bluer than blue/So blue they invented a new color so you/Could understand the shape I’m in.” This is another of the disc’s highlights.

I love this image from “Black Undercloud”: “And as the Milky Way turned off/It was a dark bus stop where I got off.” This song actually mentions the pandemic (or a pandemic): “There was a long pandemic/There was a quick guillotine/And in the stained cathedral window/I heard those sad voices/Of hell below.” And yet again, the music is hopeful, with the repeated line being, “I’m not a quitter, baby.”  That’s followed by “Indigo Seamstress,” a song about an elusive color, a quality you can’t hold onto. “There’s a book for every line/There’s a friend for any time/But there’s a color I can’t find.” I love the cheerful delivery. Then “Orange Meteors” is a short piece that has its own peculiar beauty. “Sinking like a meteor/In retrograde.” The album concludes with “White Light.” I believe 4 a.m. to be the time most often mentioned in songs, but this song actually begins at 4 p.m.: “Every day at four she asks me what's for dinner/I want to make the most of our time together.” This song features a really nice lead on flute that raises my spirits each time I hear it.

CD Track List

  1. Brown Pennies
  2. Yellow Clouds
  3. Orange Planets
  4. Green Feelings
  5. Gray Space
  6. Purple Architecture
  7. Red Feelings
  8. Blue And Dark Blue
  9. Black Undercloud
  10. Indigo Seamstress
  11. Orange Meteors
  12. White Light

In Color was released on June 2, 2023 on Ramseur Records.

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