"Calm The Sea" by Stone BearReview
Now available for your pleasure and emotional uplift is "Calm The Sea" by Stone Bear.
It's fascinating to chart the course this much admired band take: they completely give the lie to any notions that simple, predictable career arcs are the only option, let alone the best. How dull it is when an artist does something & it's pretty much expected.
They first of course caught our attention as a very loud & direct blues band, channelling the sound of the earliest practitioners of those arts with an authenticity which won them respect straight off.
But being a one trick pony, however much that might gain you an audience, is not something they seem to have wanted to be, & over the years have explored many variations of their core love: often very much gentler & as much acoustic as electric.
What with other calls on their time: as families have grown & other musical commitments were taken on, a reasonable percentage of Stone Bear releases have been solo ones by guitarist/vocalist David John: which has very much helped shaped these more contemplative pieces.
Now however David has been recording again with drummer Jeff Dennis but bringing to the sessions his experiences from his solo sessions. Such a one resulted in their last single "When You're On The Run" of which I commented "..it has the immediacy of sounding like he's simply singing the song is his kitchen and turned the tape on as he does so. It's very difficult not to assume that it's a live take with him playing & singing.." David tells me that was pretty much how he made it, and, pleased with the process as well as the outcome, he's applied it to this song: guitar, drums and vocals being captured live with subsequent overdubs by David on bass and Jeff on piano and percussion.
Whatever mode their music has appeared in, the band, however numerous, has never placed barriers between it and the audience. Arrangements on recordings usually reflect live ones and the essences of tracks are not stifled by extraneous elements. Pure live takes therefore are a logical progression in these respects & as with the entirety of the rest of their work, the results, with all their rawness & intimacy depending on the style adopted, form an emotional connection both more readily & more deeply.
At first glance, the title suggests one of their uber-tranquil numbers (and having been interested both in stone and rainfall to begin with, they are increasingly focusing on various species of tree and other aspects of nature) and hence most suitable for one of David's solo outings on acoustic guitar (he seems to be playing an electric, or semi-acoustic, in a very muted, Andy Summers style here) . However just as they once proved that they could really rock out with just two instruments, now they have demonstrated that tranquillity need not be equated directly on record with limiting the sound to just one instrument. If you are a subtle & sensitive player, you can evoke it beautifully on a range of instruments, even if the same ones can also be really loud if needed (Jeff is one of the most respected local drummers and I think those acquainted with his playing with the Skabilly Rebels will be astounded by his lightness of touch here. I'm not though as I've heard him deploy this degree of delicacy before), and if you are an arranger of similar tastefulness, you can combine several together to produce filaments of gentle power without them adding their volumes together: in fact space is as important an element here as the actual sounds and they all come together to not just complement each other but to build into a musical spider's web of glistening jewelled elements which display subtle complexities even in what on the surface might first be supposed to be a simple structure. It's the sort of exploration which Wes Finch has also been undertaking in recent years with his Silver Wye project.
There are no games played with the title: the lyrics are poetic word pictures of the subject & taken with the music, if you asked them to compose a hypnotic track to aid mindfulness, they'd have come up with something very much along these lines. It certainly had its effect on me in that respect.