Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birch Book - Vol. III - A Hand Full Of Days - 2009

Quality: CBR 192 kbps
Label: Little Somebody Records, LSR 11, US (Standard Letterpress Edition)
01 Birch Leaves
02 Feet Of Clay
03 Empty Corner Of The Page
04 Left Hand
05 Patchwork Woman
06 Stray Summer Song
07 Hatched In Stone
08 Sad Song
09 Nothing More
10 White Angel
11 Right Hand
12 Life's Lace
13 Will Of The Wind (Written By: Lincoln Lysager)
14 Birch Leaves

Subhadra: chorus
Pascal Humbert: bowed contrabass, electric bass guitar
Ron Walker: hammond organ, pedal steel guitar
B'ee: voice, guitar, piano, harmonica, sundry instruments

Third in the Birch Book series, 'A Hand Full of Days' represents the culmination of a bizarre journey through 'That High Lonesome Path'.
Recorded through the years of 2006-2009 in the American Northwest: Portland, Astoria, Naselle & San Juan Island.

In a word, this is superb album as always – recommended!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Birch Book - Vol. II Fortune & Folly - 2006

Quality: CBR 192 kbps
Label: Helmet Room Recordings, US
01 Birch Sap
02 New Song
03 Whisper In The Pine
04 Young Souls
05 New Joy
06 Diaspora
07 The Wandering Boy
08 Zephyr Through Willows
09 The Trip Goes On
10 The Carnival Is Empty
11 Birch Sap

B'ee: voice, guitar, artwork by (layout, lettering & tarot renditions)
Joshua Blanchard: chorus
Molly Blanchard: chorus

Recorded on San Juan Island off the rugged coasts of the Olympic Northwest, Fortune & Folly is the fitting second volume of Birch Book. Assuming the allegorical emblems of The Wheel of Fortune and The Traveling Fool, Fortune & Folly distill the introspections of a perennial rambler reckoning "the Bitter and the Bliss" of The Road Less Traveled. Drifting away from the overtly psychedelic, medieval, and soporific atmosphere which typified In Gowan Ring, B'ee displays a more organic, individualistic approach to songwriting. Fortune & Folly blends elements of idiosyncratic folk-pop and outcast-country with brooding layers of sound and sense, yielding a spectral ethereality in a captivating chiaroscuro thick with the visionary allusions of a haunted wanderer bent upon a mythic path....
Favorable comparisons are commonly drawn with classics such as Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake as well as contemporary "rural-folk" such as Will Oldham and Iron & Wine.

Variously labeled 'Wyrd', 'Psychedelic' or 'Avant Folk', In Gowan Ring extend roots into poetic-folk traditions while cultivating an inimitable, self-attuned writing style that prefigured the "New-Psyche-Folke" movement. As poet, pilgrim, progenitor of wyrd-folk and maestro of In Gowan Ring, Jon Michael B'eirth (otherwise B'ee) has developed a homespun sonic tapestry with peculiar richness of vision; recording over ten full length albums and performing throughout North America & Europe in veritable itinerant fashion amidst a dozen years against the grain. As well as composing the original material for Birch Book & In Gowan Ring, B'ee collects renditions of traditional songs and builds many of the acoustic instruments featured in performances and recordings such as the recent "lyre-guitar" & "leaf cittern." Though largely self-taught, he has didactically studied the music of the Trouvères and Troubadours, the counterpoint of the High Renaissance, and modern orchestration.

B'eirth has been busy. Only about a year after the release of Birch Book's debut album, he presents his second one. Those who've heard the first album probably know what to expect, as will those who bought the live EP Tangles of the Vine. Birch Book looks to be B'ee's outlet for singer/songwriter and americana feelings, and we're not disappointed here. "New Song", "Young Souls", "New Joy", they're all examplary of his newfound relaxed vibe. That also includes the new track "Whisper in the Pine", one of his finest yet when it comes to this country-like style.
But B'ee is always full of surprises. The mysterious intro "Birch Sap" should have tipped me off that something different was coming. Defying my expectations, he delivers tracks like "Diaspora" and "Zephyr through Willows": dark, misty songs that call to mind Marissa Nadler's gloomy style.

The theme of the album - as expressed by the Tarot images of The Wheel of Fortune and The Fool - is the spirit of wandering. Of packing up your stuff, leaving everything behind and setting out into an unknown future. This is displayed quite powerfully in "The Trip Goes On", which ends in manipulated distortion, and a minute of near-silence. As if the whole album is a preamble to "The Carnival is Empty". It might as well be, for this track alone makes the album more than worthwhile. Like in that other marvellous song, Dead Can Dance's "The Carnival Is Over", carnivals seem to lend themselves best to songs when empty, dead, gone and over (remember Current 93's "The Carnival is Dead and Gone"?). Never mind the lyrical parallels. This song is a breathtakingly beautiful, melancholic conclusion of this album's theme. B'ee shows himself from a totally new side and proves at the same time that he keeps growing as an artist.

This is a brilliant album, and one of this year's highlights for all lovers of folk music in the broadest sense.
Obviously, it's a must have for everyone who likes In Gowan Ring or Birch Book.
B'eirth is truly one of the greatest songsmiths of our days.

Birch Book - Vol. I Birch Book - 2005

Quality: CBR 192 kbps
Label: Lune Music, US
01 Birch Bark
02 How The Hours...
03 Five Hundred Keys
04 Easy To Live
05 Coffee Morning
06 Eglantine
07 Train To Rome
08 Leaf Patches On Sidewalks
09 Sleepless Search
10 Warm Wind And Rain
11 Windows
12 Birch Bark

B'eirth (Bee): Vocals, guitar, lute (cittern) , piano, recorder, harmonica (mouth harp), jew's harp, harp (folk harp), xylophone, percussion (sundry percussion),
Seth Eames: telecaster electric guitar
Annabel Lee: viola
Moss (Moses): vocal chorus
Victoria: vocal chorus
Birch Book / In Gowan Ring is the mostly one-man project of B'eirth, or simply "Bee", who plays psychedelic folk music in the tradition of Nick Drake and Donovan. He arrived at the station alone with a guitar case and put on a simple but beautiful and mesmerizing set of songs laced with imagery of his travels and meditations in under populated natural locales.

The songs, twelve in all, of Birch Book, were recorded in New England from 2002 - 2004. It is interesting to note those 21st Century dates on a recording absent of any of the electronics we generally associate with this dawning century. The effect is much more timeless than dated, however, and the album does make some very nice concessions to electricity, most notably the Telecaster guitar playing of Seth Eames. Along with Annabel Lee on Viola, there is a subtle (of course!) but strong counterpoint to Bee's own acoustic guitar and voice. While the gothic/psychedelic folk sounds of his In Gowan Ring work are still there, the group brings out a decidedly "post-rock" element, though still entirely on the mellow extreme side. Fans of Will Oldham's early Palace recordings might well enjoy the Birch Book album quite a bit. I suppose what that really means is that the British folk influences are blended with some more American ones tinged slightly with country and blues instrumentation. Bee's music is in general very reflective, in Birch Book there seems to be a touch of bittersweet melancholy to this reflection.
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