Every artist has a way of evoking certain emotions that comes to be a part of his or her identity. It could be as simple as pulling out Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water when you’re feeling blue or Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” when speeding down the freeway with the windows down. Certain bands or albums even come to be associated with specific seasons or types of weather. It’s different for everyone, and this really isn’t the place to get into the science behind what makes one artist a summer band and another a winter band—mostly because there is no science. It’s all about our own experiences. For me, Sea Wolf always comes up when it rains and during fall. It’s most likely their own doing for including sounds of rain and lyrical images of brown leaves turning soft in the water on their debut album, Leaves In The River. So it is only fitting that rain is falling outside as I listen now.
?Alex Brown Church, the man behind Sea Wolf, has returned to his roots for his new album, Song Spells, No. 1: Cedarsmoke. After three bonafide studio albums, he went to the fans via Kickstarter to fund a stripped-down album in between studio albums. As the project evolved, the idea of an album series was born. This first entry into the Song Spells series will only be available to non-backers on streaming sites, such as Spotify, and through their website (seawolfmusic.com) as a pay-what-you-want digital download (with a limited 500 physical copies available for purchase as well).
?Cedarsmoke makes good on the initial goal as it does call back to the more spacious songs heard on earlier albums. Led mostly by acoustic guitar and Church’s close vocals, the album’s style and tones will be familiar to longtime listeners. The opening instrumental track “Intro” is made up of a shaker, sustained notes from keyboards and cellos and a thunderstorm. It all grows closer to swallow you into the atmosphere that stays throughout the rest of the album.
?”Ram’s Head” is one of the few almost entirely acoustic tracks. Church fingerpicks a pattern on the guitar before describing a scene in front of a fireplace and whispering the chorus: “Yesterday is over and tomorrow nears, but I just want to stay right here.” Add some haunting “ooh”s, a little percussion and ethereal keyboard sounds that are better left with the sources unknown, and there you have it.
?The title track is a string-led instrumental with more sounds of the world, and it leads into “Young Bodies.” Church’s vocals are clear and effortless as he sings of “the way we used to be,” thoughtful and nostalgic, but not wishful. Church excels at making the words seem personal, as if they’re meant for one person, but also lending the meaning and imagery to let the listeners feel like they are part of the story.
?While the first half of the album includes more upbeat songs, the latter half of the album finds a stronger energy. “Whitewoods” brings back the gypsy-folk vibe that was all over Leaves In The River and has been missing since Sea Wolf’s sophomore album, White Water, White Bloom. “The Water’s Wide” echoes the sentiments of being resistant to change heard elsewhere on the album, but out of a place of confidence rather than fear: “It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before / But this morning it felt like a little more / Like the future is still wide open / And I can choose where I’m going / I don’t want to leave here now / Now that I found my legs somehow.”
Cedarsmoke doesn’t bring much in way of new direction for Sea Wolf, but that wasn’t the point. It’s clear that Church is confident and at ease here, and perhaps this was just as much for his own creative process as it was for his listeners. Previous album Old World Romance was a big step outside of the box, and I can only imagine that this step toward the center was somewhat intentional. The distinction between future Sea Wolf studio albums and entries into the Song Spells series will only be truly visible once more of each are released, but Cedarsmoke fits nicely on the shelf with the rest.