Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Once, my father broke out some bottles of corn wine, a few holidays ago, and encouraged everyone to try it - pushing the potion on us, somehow believing that since it was made of corn (and him being a corn farmer) it was superior to the swill that was made from simple grapes. He'd never encouraged the drinking of wine before, never done it himself and yet he was madly in love with the idea that the bottles he bought from an Iowa farmer were of delicious drink - bottled and sold by a buddy. Now, this is the closest that I've ever come to knowing anyone who ferments and bottles their own wine, so it goes without saying that there's still no personal connection and quite a distance, but it's often been wondered by me, with a glass of the red stuff in hand, who are the random people who attempt their own winery, in the comfort of their own yards and basements?
It seems that the kinds of people to have this sort of hobby might not be much unlike the many members of the Chicago band The Bears of Blue River. Through the escaping chill and beauty of their shambling bluegrass music, they seem to be the kinds of people who are mixing and sampling some homemade wares, living by the tastes that can be concocted by the squeezing, waiting, watching and brewing of the sweet berries. They seem to be the kinds of people who tend to get happily transported to that good place by the end of a bottle, a place that's much more manageable, with all of the hard and rough edges sanded down to smoother surfaces. It's a band that's able to frame images in the lovely sepia tones that old film or certain filters can do, casting everything seen in a light that makes certain flattering hues pop out, adding a new dimension to the viewing.
Lead singer Gavin Wilkinson strums our heartstrings and gives us the opportunity to slump down into our body's most comfortable shape and form, becoming as much of a relaxing lumps that our organs and bones will allow. The four new songs heard here give off an aura of dancing beneath the most expansive and breath-taking moonlight, definitely a bottle deep in the evening, spying fireflies and commenting to your partner that the breeze sure is lovely and wouldn't it be hard to beat a night like this one? They feel like old loves and yet like the promise of new love as well, getting us to a feeling of unstrained possibility and abundant purpose. They feel like days that pass so swiftly and simply don't come along all that often.
**The essay originally published on Daytrotter July 3, 2010