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Lewis & Clarke - Blasts of Holy Birth

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Artist: Lewis & Clarke

Album: Blasts of Holy Birth

Label: La Société Expéditionnaire

Review date: Aug. 20, 2007

In early 2005, Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke was holed up in his rural home near the Delaware River Gap, sitting on a half completed album and waiting for his son to be born. He had recorded much of the material with keyboard/multi-instrumentalist Russell Higbee and cellist Eve Miller, but Higbee had gone off to join Man Man and Miller had sustained an injury that prevented her from playing the cello. The process of birth – both the real one and the artistic, metaphorical one – seemed to have stalled. Even Rogai, who seems by nature to be a calm, philosophical sort, was beginning to lose hope.

Blasts of Holy Birth, then, is a record of struggle, doubt, and eventual resolution. It is rather lovely in spots, and peppered with odd rays of hope and joy. Still, the overall tone is unmistakably shadowy, shot through with ominous drones and disturbing images. The melodies dance, when they do, on the surface like long-legged bugs skittering over dark pools of water. "It's hard to remember / The difference between / Ending it all / And wiping it clean," Rogai murmurs in the Celtic-flavored "Black Doves," a neat summary of the existential uneasiness that even positive change can bring.

The disc starts with "Secret of the Golden Flower," a wordless duet between Eve Miller's cello and Rogai's bowed double bass. Inspired by a Chinese mystic text (which is included in the liner notes), the piece surges and cuts back, its undulating notes calling out tone and undertone. It leads directly into the album's title cut, its drone fading almost imperceptibly into the more delicately picked structure of "Blasts of Holy Birth." Luminous treble sounds – Rhodes keyboard, high guitar notes, cymbals – emerge out of the deep throb of cello, an interplay of light and shadow which is echoed in the lyrics. ("The sun will cast a shadow in our light.") "Comfort Inn," which follows, is perhaps the disc's high point, rhythmic folk guitar patterns pacing a flickering flow of images…a woman playing the harpsichord, notes left on napkins in lipstick, departures, returns and - a recurring motif – birth. Like most of these tracks, it is broken in the middle by an extended instrumental section, where the pretty folk melody heads off into more unusual territory. The song is credited to Aaron Ross, with "arrangement and liberties" by Lewis & Clarke, and it is the tension between the pristine core of melody and the "liberties" that makes it so interesting.

As the album goes on, its darker side seems to recede and the melodies uncoil in a more relaxed and easy manner. "Crimson Carpets," near the end, has an almost lazy grace to it. "Be the Air that We Breathe" is bright and full of clarity, seeming to resolve all the album's misgivings in a rush of mystic revelation. The lyric "How do we arrive? / Held up to the light to reveal the inside / The tension and the tide / Will pull back the skin and tell tales," ends with a flurry of harp. A record that has started in struggle and worked steadily and meditatively towards resolution ends, not surprisingly, in understanding. No one ever said that birth was easy. Just beautiful and necessary.

By Jennifer Kelly

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