"the night, i think, is darker than we can really say
and god’s been living in that ocean, sending us all the big waves
and i wish i was a sailor so i could know just how to trust,
maybe i could bring some grace back home to the dry land for each of us"
-Gregory Alan Isakov, 3 a.m.
I think it's fair to say that despite my best efforts, this year hasn't been going spectacularly for me so far. This week, in particular, seems to be out to get me. Last Thursday, after having finally recovered about 96% of my former glory after the Cold From Hell, I seem to have promptly picked up a whole new strain of Misery, my second illness already this year. But wait, it gets better. Round up the scientists and call the press, it appears I may need to be studied as the first known case of a human passing on a virus to a computer. And thus I found myself heading home early today after giving up on fixing my horribly fucked-every-which-way dinosaur of a PC without professional help.
Is it just me, or there something wholly unsatisfying about heading home from work early due to technical difficulties? I feel like I can only really get enjoyment from a shortened workday when it's because I managed to accomplish all my of my tasks & projects in an especially efficient and speedy manner, or maybe because it happened to be a particularly slow day. But having to call it day because your computer (or brain, for that matter) is just too completely fucked up to work on (or with), well that just leaves me with a frustrated, nagging sensation in the back of my mind that my day was useless and there will be a terrifying pile of backlogged work waiting to mock me in the 'morrow.
Anyway. There I was, dodging my way through the annoyingly crowded financial district sidewalks (who are all these people who get to leave work by 5:30 pm on a regular basis, anyway?), mumbling crankily to myself because now I have to come in early tomorrow to meet the IT guy and my boss thinks I'm downloading porn at work and god, this week blows, when it strikes me that now might be an ideal time for some Gregory Alan Isokov. My new boyfriend, you ask? Er, no (not that I would mind terribly...teehee). But he does happen to be one of my favorite new artists. And so in popped the earphones and in seconds... ahhh, instant musical balm for my frayed nerves and stuffy nose. Like Burt's Bees for chapped lips or hot cocoa for the rainy day blues.
Album reviews were never something I intended to do on this blog. After all, I don't exactly consider myself a music critic or any expert of any sort... more of a purely civilian fan and appreciator... But every now and then I guess I make a personal discovery that I feel needs to be shared. I first fell in love with the song "That Sea, the Gambler" and it's unique neo-folk sort of sound after hearing it on Pandora, and subsequently sought out the album of the same name.
It's not really surprising that many of the songs and lyrics on That Sea, the Gambler seem to deal with the lore and lure of the ocean. In fact the album as a whole seems to evoke the same feeling of peace, the same sense of deep, soul-soothing well-being mixed with a strange sort of inexplicable, beautifully sad and mysterious longing that the sea represents to me. From the lulling vocals often edged with poignant plaintiveness to the beautiful string harmonies and lilting banjo, it's almost as if you can smell the salty air while listening.
On the title track,the beginning riff recalls the feel of an old sea shanty while the soft, repeating cymbal that cues the bittersweet melody seems to evoke the crashing waves of the ocean. The fiddle interludes in "John Brown's Body" lend the song a subtle Celtic flavor and the cadence of "Black and Blue" calls to mind the rhythm of a gently rolling surf, while the beautiful melancholy sigh of the cello in "San Francisco" speaks to the soul of the depth and the ancient mystery of the sea itself.
"Raising Cain" picks up the pace a little (though still in a laid back way) with it's bluegrass-y flavor. I must admit I was immediately drawn to this song for the Cain reference, having recently read and become slightly obsessed with East of Eden and fascinated with the biblical mythology it alludes to. The lyrics here also evoke to me the age old story of a fall from grace and perhaps, ultimately, of choice and redemption. The song itself reminds me a little of Bob Dylan, although to be honest, it may just be the harmonica. I have to say, I'm a bit of a sucker for a harmonica solo. And a banjo of course, always a banjo.
Even the apparent outlier track, "Salt and the Sea", doesn't seem terribly out of place despite its quite different musical style. The lyrics stay true to the general theme of the album both in their ocean imagery and wistfulness. I can definitely relate when he sings: "i’m going back where i belong, with the salt and the sea and the stones, save them all for me". And the jazzy instrumentation and slightly muted vocals easily conjure in my imagination the nostalgia of a lazy vintage seascape with frolicking waves and revelers.
Of course the rest of the songs are great too, and filled with enough banjo, cello and violin to keep this girl more than happy (did I mention I'm also a sucker for cello and violin?). But I'll spare you more of my opinion. I guess what I've really been trying to say with all the rambling comparisons and music critic-posturing is that That Sea, The Gambler is a beautifully textured, richly evocative album that, like the ocean, is deep and seductively melancholy, oddly soothing. And like the ocean, it will haunt you , in a good way. It's the perfect CD to listen to alongside the rolling sea, strolling through the park on a lazy Sunday, on a long drive, or commuting home from a frustrating day at work. So do yourself a favor: go out and get it, and let the musical waves crash over you.
"give me darkness when i’m dreaming, give me moonlight when i’m leaving
give me mustang horse and muscle, cuz i wont be goin gentle"
give me mustang horse and muscle, cuz i wont be goin gentle"
**UPDATE** It was touch and go for a while, but after numerous life-saving procedures (and approximately eleven endlessly clever "cut down on the porn, eh!" jokes from my comedian co-workers), my work computer managed to pull through and seems to be making a full recovery. Praise be and Hallelujah. And I believe this whole ordeal has sped up the process of me finally getting a mac and not being the sole employee relegated to outcast PC status. It would appear that maybe there is a silver lining to every stormy cloud and frustrating setback after all.