Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Album Impressions: Bill Mallonee's Winnowing, Track-by-Track

Winnowing is available for listening and purchase at Bill Mallonee's Bandcamp. It is also available as a limited edition vinyl LP.

"Dover Beach"- Not even a minute passes before we get our first refrain of “out in the cold,” which serves in place of a chorus for the album opener, and as a thesis for the album as a whole. Mid-tempo and shuffling, the song hangs on layered electric guitar parts that have become the musical hallmark of Bill’s recorded work since Permafrost. "Dover Beach" was, earlier, the album’s title, and the song still serves the purpose of a title track. We find a pilgrim who has “traveled for these many years & knocked on all these doors,” now tired and broken-hearted, still searching for a home unseen.

"Those Locust Years"- Despite a little more spring in the musical step here, the themes of scarcity, loss, and resignation continue. Now, instead of a bleak ocean view, we glimpse something going on beneath the skin.

"From An Old Beat Up Ford"- This is one of the strongest tracks, musically, with a gorgeous yet disturbing extended guitar effect on the ending. Though a cold dark has settled in, we are reminded of a prior time when the sun shone brightly. Ignored at the time, perhaps the memory can still provide some “illumination” and a “beacon in the storm.”

"Got Some Explainin’ To Do (Gotta Give The Devil His Due)"- The rocker here, featuring blistering harmonica and social commentary. Against such obvious devilry at every turn, what was only a memory of goodness becomes a renewed passion, a public commitment to “banishing darkness” and “doing what is right.”

"Dew-Drop Inn (I Love You Just Because)"-The lone traveler, cold, empty-handed, and wearied by the evils of this life, finds momentary respite in the company of fellow pilgrims. “Stories get told” and “drinks get poured,” and all the reason needed for love is “just because.” Lovely organ work at the end hints at the grace to be found in moments like these.

"Blame It On The Desert (Whisperin’)"- “Farther up the road,” the traveler stops in at a “roadside diner Communion table,” and, true to the commitments expressed across the previous two songs, remembers that “you only ever own/what you give away” and to “leave what you are able.” The lonely road is no longer home; now, it is the solitude of a desert existence that surrounds our pilgrim. Such existence provides only too much time for the introspection and mourning of the opening tracks, but also the “mystic insight” that prepares the heart with love for fellow travelers.

"In The New Dark Age (The Only Lamp Burning Bright Is You)"- The lushest and most psychedelic of the tracks here, hearkening back somewhat to the mood of Perfumed Letter. The kind company of fellow pilgrims cannot quite protect against the oncoming night of “the new dark age,” where such love and grace is a rarity, where “no one trusts anyone” and love has been “escorted out.” Which is stronger: the encompassing dark, or the lone lamp “burning bright”?

"Hall of Mirrors/Room Full of Woes"- The lamp may burn bright as the desert wind blows through the night, but in the late hours one is all too aware that “death is a boxer stalking the ring” who’s “always stealing the show.” Another early contender for album title, this song gathers all the introspection and quiet resignation of the album, speaks it clearly, yet dares to whisper into the night: “what is lost is nothing/compared to what gets found.”

"Now You Know"- The official album closer. A restatement of all the darker themes of the album, the sadnesses ever-present as one travels the hills, deserts, and seas. Can things get that bad? Can all hope and faith be lost? “Now you know…”

"Tap Your Heart On The Shoulder"- The last word is never the last word. What seems most certain in the darkest hours of the night may still be questioned in the “eternal dawn and gloaming” of sunrise. When faith and hope no longer remain, love is still “the greatest of these,” and may yet bring the others back with her. In the lowest moment of the “locust years,” if the “prize-fighter” has not yet taken “all the prize money,” then “this old flesh & blood has gotta find/a reason to believe.” What better reason than love? No guarantees, but maybe Love has persevered through the night, accompanying the pilgrim through his desert Gethsemane. “Hey, reach over & tap your heart on the shoulder/and see if she’s still awake.”

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