I first heard Luke Brindley about ten years ago, when his Spring Song release made it into my hands. At the time, I was in the music business, swimming in singer-songwriters, with several demos or full-length CDs (and cassettes!) stuffed in my mailbox everyday. I listened to them all, one minute of each of the first three songs. And yes, it's true --- you do get a fairly accurate indication of the way things will go in that sampling. Most did not make it further. Spring Song did. It was likely because it reminded me (perhaps a little too much) of a singer-songwriter giant in my eyes and ears, the Canadian Bruce Cockburn, and yet I think I felt there was more to it as well, something original and not just derivative, like a younger writer just beginning to find his voice.
A lot has happened in ten years. How much the world has grown up. And how much Luke Brindley has grown up, both in life experiences and in music, as it should be. Listening to his just released A Hidden Wholeness, I sense that he is, if not fully grown, a long way from Spring Song. And yet, you can still hear the voice of the child in the man, a comforting sense to me that he has not forgotten his roots as he continues to circle his musical home.
The album is a sonic delight, everything I ever wanted in music. To resurrect a tag line I used to use in the record business, it is "acoustically grounded, lyrically thoughtful, and spiritually provocative." It is, in short, the kind of music I return to despite the journeys over the years into many other genres. It's like coming home.
Brindley knows how to rock, as songs on some previous records testify to, but this is not that record, not that it doesn't have some upbeat moments. This is, rather, a more mature and fully developed folk-pop record that heralds back in some ways to those early recordings, like Spring Song and How Faint the Whisper. Only this time around the songs are more instrumentally diverse, lyrically deep, and better produced. For me it's a near perfect blend of folk and pop, with some moving melodies that pull you right in, like "We Go Together," a song about persevering in life, together, in spite of what comes your way, or the punchy pop of "Broken Land," with the chorus, "honey take my hand, through this broken land," bringing to mind the late Mark Heard's "Treasure in a Broken Land."
Broken, but not without hope. And that seems to be the thematic thread that runs through these songs: life is difficult, often confusing, but "as dark as it's gotten/ it ain't dark yet" ("We Go Together") and "only love's gonna tear down these walls ("Wrecking Ball"). Thematically, "Broken Land," which also serves as the album's last word, is the center of the album, with its searching hope, Brindley singing about "looking through the city for the real life giver," and about how he's "heard rumors of redemption, maybe they're true," hope springing out of doubt. Even religion fails him, and yet the essence of true religion remains, or at least seems to haunt him:
i was raised in the pews of a dozen small churches
tongues of fire conjured when the choir would sing
beyond the din of the deceivers and the orphaned believers
i heard the Lord knockin' so i let him in
now that refuge of hope has been torn down for years
and my spirit still fights with my flesh
but if you cornered me in my clearest moment
asked me if i'd do it again, i'd say yes
And yes, I believe he would. And maybe we would too.
A Hidden Wholeness is a fitting return to roots for Luke Brindley, a cup of water to this thirsty man. I highly recommend it. Two quibbles though: For those who still care about physical product, the print on this artistic record is much too faint, the title indecipherable and the song titles practically so. And given the importance of lyrics in this kind of music, their absence is an inconvenience. But that has nothing to do with the excellent craft wielded here. Listen. Soon.