Hugh Christopher Brown. PACEM. Wolfe Island Records

pacem-cover-1-300x300Peace on earth or at least peace on Wolfe Island, the island musical community nestled between Canada and the USA close to the great lakes which Chris Brown calls home for much of the time. An acclaimed producer and multi instrumentalist, Brown has helmed several albums we’ve reviewed in the past including the mighty debuts from Suzanne Jarvie and David Corley. In addition he’s a dedicated believer in the rehabilitative powers of music having founded the Pros And Cons programme which runs music workshops for Canadian prisoners.  PACEM was recorded in his Wolfe Island studio set up, a former post office and it’s a beguiling mix of breezy songs couched in an almost Celtic soul vibe with dashes of Americana; fiddles, pedal steel and churchlike organ adding atmosphere to the album.

A sense of community permeates the album with Brown collaborating with various singers who take centre place on several songs. There’s a spiritual dimension also, the album opening with an arrangement of a prayer by the 16th century Saint Ignatius sung in Latin by Sherry Zbrovsky which sets the scene for Brown’s meditations which seem to be those of a man cleaving to life and music while seeking some divine sign that he’s on the right path. However the overall feel is redemptive and joyous despite some of the songs begging the eternal question.

Love, The World is an excellent acoustic mumble of a song with some mild sonic interludes from wayward keyboards recalling the freak folk movement of a few years back while Keeper Of the Flame is an upbeat piano based song which swells into an lovely slice of pedal steel laced Americana as Brown breathlessly expresses his admiration for a soul mate, spiritually and musically, the song dancing with the same bright and light footsteps as some of Van Morrison’s work.  Several of the songs recall Morrison’s heyday with Margaret a song poem replete with burbling bass lines and glorious harmonies while To The Lighthouse roams wonderfully through some Celtic landscapes with the fiddle adding a sense of mystery.

The Yield is a brief keyboard instrumental which is rich in atmosphere with a touch of Debussy about it and it segues into the powerful and plaintive The Wave, a song about those tossed across the oceans seeking refuge, sung with great feeling by Kate Fenner. Brown gives space to another powerful voice on Moved By Hands To Shelter as David Corley’s gravelly vocals contrast with Brown’s lighter voice in a song which is delivered as if plucked from the King James Bible.  There’s a similar biblical feel to the magnificently structured The Great Unknowing which kicks off sounding like Will Oldham in a mischievousness mood with a wonderfully wooden timbre before ascending into an almost Brian Wilson like middle eight and then fizzing out resplendently. Brown closes the album with a song which harks back to those folk singers who had a metaphysical bent back in the sixties on Broken. Here he roams the highways and byways of love with a cobblestone back street romanticism lit by candlelight.

An album best heard in the late hours, preferably with a broken heart or a sense of ennui, PACEM is an excellent collection of songs on which to ponder.

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