28 February 2009

REVIEW: The Last of the Curlews, Brett Kull

It is perhaps not fair of me to review Brett Kull solo albums.

After all, in my mind I consider the man a friend. We speak on an irregularly regular basis. I think we’ve shared things on some deep personal levels that make his material, both solo and with echolyn/still/always almost, far more personal and deeply touching for me.

But it is a double-edged sword as well. For if something comes up short, well…I think the result would be more crushing.

So when I say that The Last of the Curlews, his new solo album, more than lives up to any expectations I might have for it, you might take that with a grain of salt or two. If I say that it has exceeded the lofty expectations I have for his work, you may shrug it off as expected. When I say that I find it to be alternately agonizing and painful and beautiful and wonderful and pure, well…I hope you’d accept that as the truth the way I see it.

Save for drums (provided capably by echolyn bandmate Paul Ramsey), this is a true solo album in every sense of the word. Brett plays everything, sings (pretty much) everything, wrote everything. He produced it and recorded it and mixed it. The result is incredibly smooth…songs flow organically, filled with the melodic sensibilities, hooks and personal lyrics that have been a hallmark of his work for the past 18 years (and my dog, has it really been that long since the debut album came out? I graduated high school that year, for crying out loud!).

Echolyn fans will love the little nods to the previous record The End is Beautiful, as certain song titles find their way worked in to lyrics here and there. The Last of the Curlews is not a continuation of that album, however, even if certain themes seem to follow on in kind. From the outside, it seems Brett has matured so much over the years, and his lyrics have taken on a more wistful longing feel to them. I think there’s still idealism in his words, but there’s also a healthy dose of realism and acceptance there as well. And right now, far too much of the material here hits far too close to home for me. I have to admit to choking up when I read and hear lines like these:

“I've tasted love, it tastes of tears
Neither warm nor cool just sorrowful
'Cause all that you love will be carried away
I've tasted love, it tastes of tears

It seems I've been lost to you
You say its time to start anew
But please don't forget our love and all we had to give
It seems that I'm lost to you
There was a place for us”

Highlights…there are so many highlights here. “There Was a Place for Us” is certainly one. “Windows of Light” is another, as is the title track, which has little to do with the book or ABC afternoon special from which Brett drew the album’s title (even if in some abstract ways there are connections in theme and purpose). His playing is wonderful throughout the album…I am drawn to his acoustic guitar playing on the title track, with organ underpinning the song as it carries along. I could actually hear this song on Cowboy Poems Free; it is perhaps the most echolyn-like on the album to me. There’s also some very tasty electric guitar playing throughout Curlews…while this is a song-based release more than a ‘prog’ album, one should not be afraid of a lack of expansive, emotional playing or instrumental work. It’s just that the playing has been tied to the song, not the other way around.

And that’s how it should be.

In time I may find myself able to distance my immediate emotional response to this album, my place and my time, and look at it more objectively. Some things ring through no matter what, however…skill, passion, honesty. The Last of the Curlews exhibits all of these things to incredibly deep degrees. It flows from the speakers in waves of colour and sound (speaking of which, hit his website and check out how he equates colour with each of the songs on the album). If Orangeish-Blue was a solid ‘debut’ release (and it was), The Last of the Curlews absolutely blows it out of the water in every way. A more impressive ‘singer/songwriter’ album I’ve not heard in some time, and as a showcase for what Brett brings to the table with echolyn, well…it doesn’t get any clearer than this.

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