It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Brave Timbers, once the solo project of Sarah Kent. With the additional of fellow multi-instrumentalist Andrew Scrogham, the timbres are a bit fuller and concerts suddenly a lot easier to perform. The core sounds of piano and violin remain, as does the introspective mood; the difference is that the beauty is now graced with hope. This sense of uplift is first apparent in “Swimming in the Isar,” whose buoyant strings offset the melancholy piano. The piano vanishes in the center of the piece, as if to listen to a message of encouragement; when the piano returns, it sounds more hopeful as well.
Could it be that Kemp is happier? It’s always better to play with a friend. Even the track titles (“Sun Through Leaves,” “A Break in the Clouds”, “After the Rain,” “First Light”) sing of storms passing, darkness dissipating, the promise of brighter days. The theme is convincing in large part due to the tonal contrast. Hopeful sounds are not always happy sounds, but include tinges of yearning, perseverance and courage. Brave Timbers acknowledges the clouds, but refuses to be defined by them. The silences between their notes provide space for reflection, along with an upward curve.
No rough edges are found here. Overall, the album produces a sense of comfort akin to that of a warm drink on a cold night. One can sense the steam rising from the mug as the full moon rises outside. Can it be that the storm has passed? And what wonder will appear in its wake? Brave Timbers won’t allow its listeners to be discouraged. They’ve seen life from both sides. Any final doubts are dispelled by the buoyant guitar of “First Light,” a noticeable tonal boost before the serene finale.
Early pre-orders also come with a bonus disc, more ambient in nature. With artists such as Fieldhead and The Green Kingdom, it’s worth buying this one early. Just don’t expect these versions to sound as hopeful, or the album as consistent. By placing vocals in “Fledglings,” The Declining Winter injects a note of sadness; Fieldhead and The Green Kingdom add melodic textures; Chihei Hatakeyama and Tobias Hellkvist rub the original tracks into wax paper with rolling pins until the sounds are smoothed out. Of these, The Green Kingdom does the most to enhance the feeling described by the title. Then there’s RxGibbs, who makes a dance track out of “Stillness!” These remixes may be all over the map, but they each bring something new to the table. Overall, it’s an excellent package and a welcome return, a solo artist now twinned. (Richard Allen)