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Brightblack Morning Light - Brightblack Morning Light

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Artist: Brightblack Morning Light

Album: Brightblack Morning Light

Label: Matador

Review date: Jul. 31, 2006

Emerging like rays of sunshine after a thunderstorm, Northern California by way of Alabama duo Brightblack Morning Light's self-titled full-length wanders down from beachside camp sites and mountain top refuges, bringing with it enough self-created mysticism and hippie vibes to make even the most die hard tokers take pause. Channeling supposed links to Native American roots and a bone deep, metaphysical connection to our beleaguered planet, lifelong friends and musical conspirators Rachel "Rabob" Hughes and Nathaniel "Nabob" Shineywater's Matador debut features endless Mother Earth paeans and lazy strolls through rainbow imagery. Thankfully, the music that accompanies their lyrical flights of fancy and ever so stoned imagery soothes the chafing caused by such unabashed and often lurid flower power ranting.

Thus far these two have been haphazardly lumped with those freaks that encompass much of the modern folk resurgence. It makes sense in some ways -- not only have they shared bills with the likes of Espers and Joanna Newsom and a producer with Devendra Banhart, but their overall aesthetic channels the same reborn zeitgeist that those kids aim for track after track. But on their self-titled Matador debut, any such comparison ends with those tangentials. Brightblack's aesthetic is one of gentle blues guitar figures and lazy soul, with strong rhythms egging on the reverbed organ that joins Nabob and Rabob's effortless vocal harmonies.

Though the album features ten songs, it more often plays like one massive piece with barely perceptible breaks. As engaging as the actual tunes can be, the disc's real strength is in its ability to sustain one consistent mood through its entire duration -- a slow-mo, almost languid waltz through bayous and shorelines. Even so, individual songs distinguish themselves from the haze -- "Everybody Daylight" starts the album with a supple rhythm while flute lines aim for the skies. "A River Could Be Loved" is willfully spare, tracing simple piano and organ tones across Rabob and Nabob's faintly echoed vocals. Gail West and Ann McCrary (two latter day members of the Staple Singers) lend their voices to tracks like "Friend of Time," giving the album's subtle gospel notes a distinguished feel. Brightblack's most affecting piece, though, is also the record's longest. Starting with woozy keys and lazy guitar, "Star Blanket River Child" hits a deep mainline and works it over, punctuating the engaging lope with tight horn bursts that add Technicolor effects to the band's genteel brush strokes.

Brightblack Morning Light combines a wealth of seemingly disparate musical strands into one potent, cohesive brew. Though Hughes and Shineywater skirt blues, funk, and modern psychedelic rock, what emerges never sounds like haphazard pastiche. Rather, stewed together long and slow, these familiar refrains emerge as the band's own singular and unmistakable sound -- powerful in its stark simplicity and graceful dedication to space, but played with gentle hands that never become overbearing. If anything, that's the album's only real weakness (besides the flower power) -- in pursuing such a lazy, hazy stream of thought for close to an hour, there's a tendency for the second half of the record to feel like a blur of nameless trees and rivers. Nonetheless, that dedication is always heartwarming, resulting in an album that seems perfectly suited for these heat-stroke days that we're stuck sweating through. Playing like Dusty Springfield's tenure in Memphis coated in bong resin, Dr. John's gris-gris mixed with some potent cough syrup, or even the Band's hearty embrace of Americana tempered with late night camp outs under the stars, Brightblack Morning Light is one gorgeous sigh after another.

By Michael Crumsho

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