After three well-received EPs (one in 2011 and two in 2012), Joel Nathaniel Pike is set to release his debut album. We were pleasantly surprised by the last two EPs (the first came out before we existed), and the new release contains another pleasant surprise: the addition of cello to the piano and guitar. One could almost hear this coming while listening to the remixes on What We Dream Of ….. The pedal haze has also been dropped, inspiring us to move this release from the ambient category to that of modern composition. This shift has launched Pike into direct competition with such artists as Arnalds and Frahm, but the competition is friendly, as the work of these performers is dependably benign.
As mentioned in our last Tiny Leaves review, the piano is the performer’s strongest asset, and thankfully the ivory work is at the fore of this album throughout its length. Never is this more apparent than in the shift at 2:45 of “My hand in yours”, which begins with an unexpected chord, then quickly adopts a more urgent pace. A similar shift occurs at 1:34 of the title track, as all other instruments drop out, allowing the piano to take its first tentative steps into the wilderness before sounding the all-clear.
The cello has its moments as well, especially the 12-note motif of “Weight/Wait” and the eight-note opening of “Minuet”. But more often than not, the cello is used to add bone to marrow and flesh to bone. The strings know how to be invisible and yet ever-present, to enhance through servanthood, to smile from the rafters, enjoying the success of a friend. This sort of supporting role is more important than it seems. Consider for example the impact a repeated pair of notes has on the depth of the title track. An eight-minute solo piano piece can be a bear; in such cases, harmonic support is a blessing.
The music of Tiny Leaves has always been life-affirming, bearing such titles as “Hope Awakening” and “A Moment to Dream”. So it should come as no surprise that A Good Land An Excellent Land is a concept album of sorts, loosely based on the early life of Abraham. The title refers to a promise made by God to Abraham, who asked Abraham to leave the land of his ancestors in order to travel to a new home that God would reveal. “Speaking of things as yet unseen” quotes Hebrews 11 (also known as the “faith” chapter), which looks back on Abraham’s life story with reverence. “My hand in yours” mirrors God’s promise of companionship, and “Leaving” (the final track) intimates that the journey has begun. Pike is on the right path as well; the promised land is one step closer. (Richard Allen)