Stone Breath – Children Of Hum

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[Reviewed by vitriol]

Stone Breath has been the musical vehicle of Timothy Renner from as far back as 1997, when the band’s first work “Songs Of Moonlight And Rain” appeared. A few releases later Timothy and his wife Allison founded their own label, Hand/Eye, where most subsequent releases by Stone Breath have seen the light of day. The project has gone through many phases and a lot of friends and collaborators have made their appearance in its recordings throughout the years. It has graced us with extraordinary works such as “The Silver Skein Unwound”, “The Ætheric Lamp” and my favourite of theirs “The Night Birds Psalm”, among others. Sporting influences from 60s and 70s psych folk, British folk, Celtic and medieval music, ethnic, as well as roots and dark country, there’s never the impression of reproduction or imitation in their music. Stone Breath doesn’t really sound like anything else in this scene. Whenever they put out something new it is bound to be surprising, original and of an exceptionally high quality.

The album’s title refers to a conversation between Timothy and Prydwyn, where Prydwyn described their path in this phrase: “Some things hum. Some things do not hum. I follow those things that hum.” A simple, and perhaps one of the few possible explanations for things not easily put to words, this is the main concept of the recording, for which Stone Breath returns to its rudimentary lineup, namely that of Timothy and his brother-in-arms Prydwyn. A straightforward, traditional orchestration with some experimental touches, executed with a variety of acoustic instruments and the two singers’ voices, and paired with Timothy’s poetic lyrics strewn with mystical imagery and symbolism, this is an album that makes a strong and lasting impression. It contains twelve tracks, six of which are new and constitute the core of the release. The other six are bonus tracks, two of which have appeared in compilations (“For Lee Jackson in Space” and “The Devil In Love”, the soundtrack to a Swedish edition of Jacques Cazotte’s novel of the same name), the rest being previously unreleased.

The first track, “The Dead Keep This” is an eerie, pagan ballad with harp, whistle and voice, dedicated as the title suggests, to midnight communications with the dead. Its delicate string sequences, which remind me a little of traditional Japanese and Chinese music, in combination with the lamenting chorus make it very evocative in its minimalism. “The Winding Way” is in a manner the album’s anthem. A brotherly statement made by both artists, confirming the choice of path they have made, as well as exposing the suffering and difficulty it entails. ‘Through soaking rain/ And burning sun/ Follow the hum’; they remain undeterred in spite of the obstacles the road holds for them. One of the most graceful and at the same time most memorable tunes in the album – I would say ‘catchy’ but the use of this word seems unfair here.

And then follows my favourite track, a bitterly melancholic but exceedingly beautiful song about the loneliness of the path. Dark two-voice choruses with the crooning of the guitar interrupted by the whistle. ‘Always all one/ All ways alone/ My aged flesh/ Or cracking bone’ the weary traveller sings, hoping for some kind of redemption, for a sign by the gods. But like the Hermit of the Tarot, he carries on, because his tired, battered heart is still filled with this strange kind of love. In “Brother Blood, Sister Moon” the two voices join in the chorus, to paint the image of two wandering minstrels braving the odds in a fast, moody melody. “ And now we walk by her red light/ Two hungry pilgrims in the night/ Two fisher kings without kingdom/ The stars our only diadem” they sing, and you can almost see them fading in the night through this road that disappears somewhere in the woods.

“All This And Alice” and “Song To The Folding Leaves” are reminiscent of 60s psych folk/ rock with their oriental orchestrations and melodies, both perfect examples of how to incorporate oriental forms and instruments into a western-based musical output. Compositionally speaking both these songs are admirable. “At The Well” is a short melodic track with two voices, whistle and strings that closes the first part of the album. “Wade into the water with me/ and you will find me there” – I cannot help but think of Mimir’s well. “Just Like The River” is a moving, emotional piece, featuring voice and several different string instruments, thematically similar to “The Winding Way”. The theme of the personal freedom of the artist and seeker is further explored in the next track, “Starlight Sight”, while “The Famous Flower of Serving Men” is a traditional song narrating the story of a young woman whose husband and child are killed by her mother, after which she decides to pose as a man and serve her king in court. “Love In The Devil’s Tongue” contains a Mediterranean-tinged string melody (string instruments in this track are played by Timothy and Don Belch) and the lovely voice of Sarada who assumes the role of the Devil professing her love. Don Belch is present in the next and final track as well, along with Brooke Elizabeth sharing the vocals with Timothy, in this trippy, dark ballad.

Using just a selection of acoustic instruments and their own voices, these two modern troubadours wander through rain and snow, through blood and fire, dedicated to their winding path much like their medieval counterparts, in a celebration of brotherhood, of mystical and universal truth and the emotions that ensue. The songs and lyrics have a deeply personal resonance with the listener, thus enabling each one to relate individually to them, and discover their own identifications regardless of which path they have chosen. To a large extent “Children Of Hum” follows the ancient traditions of epic poetry and medieval minstrelsy, that of the telling of tales that could serve as an outlet and an illumination to the audience’s psyche. Viewed from a modern aspect you may feel the need to thank the artists for putting it out, because you know as soon as the first note strikes, that they have shared a precious and genuine part of themselves with us. And such a beautiful part it is.

Stone Breath – Children Of Hum
Hand/Eye
CD, Digital, 2014

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