The New Zeitgeist Myths and Mortals

The New Zeitgeist Myths and Mortals 

by Hannah Frank On Axis Music

Cinematic, fresh and lush-- this is country music without the dirt and dust, simply the soaring voices and storytelling, wrapped in layered arrangements with symphonic depth and vocal beauty which is normally reserved for classical music. Delivering mood as the main ingredient, these songs create visuals with bits of stories and characters which read like movie scores to a movie we can't quite see, just imagine.

Using imagery which recalls America's Wild West, the mysteries of personal journeys, as well as hints of Elizabethan ballads, the album is built on the foundations of the past. Yet, like a novel it creates its own reality without compromise.   

The album Myths and Mortals is full of galloping rhythms, instrumentation of guitar, lap steel, flute, drums, organ, and more. The vocals of Jen Reilly burn fire-like throughout, creating embers which catch the imagination. They stand out most on Desert Rose, a country ballad where fans of Patsy Cline are defied to not melt. Looking Glass Man is reminiscent of Grace Slick with Jefferson Airplane with the grunge replaced by ethereal waves, thanks to vocals and perfect cymbal crashing, creating a bath of sonic beauty. Kingdom Highway is the song that hints at America's gospel tradition, with Kingdom Highway being a metaphor for Kingdom Come; where the narrator hears a joyful noise, drawing them in, and hears the angels singing a joyful tune. Organ fills in and the song establishes a groove with a comfortable hook on guitar that sets off the vocals. Several tracks feature Eddy Bluma on vocals, which balances the album as he shares a steadfast world-worn wisdom which foils the ethereal.

This is not folk music in an "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" aesthetic, or a retro rockabilly country style full of kitsch and vintage thrift store costumes, rather, its artifice is holistic-- it seeks to envelop you completely, rather than simply be a novelty. To achieve this, there is not a hair out of place. With formalities in delivery and execution, it allows us to take refuge in the mysteries of the past, while creating a present in which reality is defined by what surrounds us. Like finding an old trunk in an attic and being pulled into another world, the album uses the artifacts of the past to awaken our curiosity and help us unearth new emotions in the present.

A convergence of influences work hand in hand. Scales and modes recall the Eastern influence on the Western United States through Chinese immigrants, as well as Native American influence on the American West, mixed with the stories of pioneers and explorers who dealt in a land of strange beauty and savage mysteries.

Storytelling by Bluma on tracks like The Ghost Trail include lines “red dusty streets...miner's regrets and gambler's debts...”, recalling the red clay of the South, as well as imagery of cliffs and cobblestone.  The chorus about a ghost trail not only refers to Westward expansion, but also to our personal pilgrimages. On Fear of Little Men, the vocals of Reilly and Bluma work together expertly, with a mysterious hook that keeps the song engaging, while the upbeat Lack of Linear Thought is a present-day pop song, with a fun organ riff that is undeniably smile inducing.

The American West mirrors personal paths, with the unforeseen challenges and victories as well as inevitable defeats at the hands of fate-- yet even within this there is beauty. Instead of a textbook about the past, or a caricature of it, I sense the timelessness of it. This is the great achievement of this album. For a time when we all might want to take a break from smartphones and current events, this album offers not only a portal to another world (which is relaxing, epic and full of waderlust) but the reminder that we create our own realities.

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