Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Keening for the Dawn: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany - Steve Bell




A thoughtful, exquisitely rendered and exceedingly broad Christmas recording

Keening for the Dawn: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany
Artist: Steve Bell (www.SteveBell.com)
Label: Signpost Music
Time: 11 tracks/44:17 minutes

One joy and reason for thanksgiving is the incredible diversity that God has placed in this world. The variety of Christmas recordings is one example. They can be as different as night and day but be just as rewarding, depending on the preferences and disposition of the listener. This is unique among the Christmas recordings that I have reviewed both past and present.

What makes it so is the scope of Keening for the Dawn by Canadian Steve Bell. “Oracles” opens with a prophetic reflection that sees beyond the birth of Christ to the time when He shall reign. This Second Advent is what believers wait for as described on the following title track. Similarly, the next song, “Fashion for Me,” yearns for an inheritance that is yet future, that “is empty of endless disease/with no one to suffer, hate or appease.” There are songs here that highlight the birth of Christ, but what makes this intriguing are the broad applications.

“Refugee” shatters illusions: “We think of him as safe beneath the steeple/Or cozy in a crib beside the font/But he is with a million displaced people/On the long road of weariness and want.” We get another reality check in a spoken word interlude on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “We surf the surface of a widescreen world/And find no virtue in the virtual/We shrivel on the edges of a wood/Whose heart we once inhabited in love.”

The rustic music fits well with the varied moods and sentiments. Stringed instruments rule the day. The frequent use of Dobro makes for a rural sound. “Glory” even has a light country vibe that includes harmonica and organ. This song has a simple, elegant harmony vocal on the chorus. 

Electric guitar punctuates the atmosphere of some tracks with an element of danger. For me it conjures up a spooky desert scene in an old western movie. Though light has dawned with Christ’s advent, the world is not a safe place. This is why we keen for a new dawn where God rights all wrongs.

“Peace Be Unto You,” “While Shepherds Watched” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” are classically-inspired. The production reflects the starkness of winter. Bell’s voice adds warmth to crystalline instrumentation.

Some lyrics on this release were written by the British poet Malcolm Guite. He adds spoken-word parts on a couple of tracks. The thoughts, like most of the lyrics, run deep, providing plenty to ponder. Bell has often drawn inspiration from other artists and writers and it serves him well here.

This is Steve Bell’s seventeenth and possibly finest recording. He distinguishes himself as one in whom this season brings out the best. This is thoughtful, artistic and exquisitely rendered. The content is broad enough to be appreciated all year long. This is a wonderful introduction to Bell’s work.
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