The last thing I wanted to hear on a sunny afternoon, winter still too close to have forgiven it for its chilly insult, is a song that begins, “October snow is coming down.” But the lead track to The Galen Kipar Project‘s new record, The Scenic Route is luminous and warm; Kipar’s vocals as light and syncopated as water cascading over rocks.
Actually, water is an adroit descriptor for an album rife with liquid references. “Rushing Over My Bones,” “The Shore Rushed By” and “Riversong” — and those are just the song titles. “It’s silent up here, silent as water freezing,” he sings on “How I’ve changed.”
Scant liner notes reveal little more than the performers and collaborators of Route (though those include the Echo Mountain studio, keys player Aaron Price, artist Frieda Kipar and “all those who have supported us along the way”), but there’s a sense of sea change. Seasons, natural metaphors, moody meditations allude to darker stirrings beyond the album’s first buoyant offering. “You bring tears to my eyes, you bring tears to my eyes, you bring tears to my eyes,” Kipar sings at the far reach of his register on “Why?” Extended instrumentals — nearing, but tighter than, jam territory — and an especially plaintive harmonica line add to the anguished feel of this song.
“And the Shore Rushed By” has a rollicking beat and rich bass lines offset by a wickedly eerie fiddle at the half-way mark. Think Crobsy Stills & Nash meets the “burning violin” of Leonard Cohen fame.
Each song on Routes is carefully orchestrated and worked with the tender care of a master painter at his easel. Kipar elevates this eight-song collection far beyond standard singer/songwriter fare, wringing emotion and texture from each song and adding layers of interest with rich, resonant percussion and an intricate dance of string tones. He pushes the envelope of how many sounds can be introduced without reducing the sum to a fuzzy, sonic snarl. In each moment the symphonic result is shined to a high gloss and, despite more than one turn through the soul’s dark night, Kipar never loses sight of the bright warmth with which he begins the journey of this CD.
If Galen Kipar’s The Scenic Route — a name which at first seems vague, but, on closer examination, proves apt — is not a work of mastery, it’s damned close. Learn more at galenkipar.com.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter