First, a disclaimer: This is not a CD I was prepared to enjoy.
For one thing, the current polarized red-vs-blue mood in our country has made me very weary of simplistic, name-calling partisan rhetoric, whether from the Left or from the Right. Unfortunately, Like Water contains a lot of that rhetoric, using capitalized bugaboo phrases like "Big Corporations" (oooh!) and "Box Stores" (oh my!)...even weaving Canadian pharmacies, Desert Storm, uranium poisoning, slanted news, minimum wage pay, and corporate greed into a single song (Salt In My Tears).
To my taste, a simple song about good-hearted people surviving hard times, in the Woody Guthrie mold, can make a political statement a thousand times more eloquently than one that uses didactic lyrics like "the poor fight wars while the rich drink martinis." Write a song about the soldier, or about the rich man: Don't just throw stones! Ironically, one of the songs on this album, Talk Radio, lampoons exactly the sort of name-calling that the album contains.
Similarly, I had trouble getting past the unexamined "everything-is-beautiful" mood of the CD: The liner notes refer obliquely to the "unsung heroes" who "give solace and protection to our animal brethren" but are ignored by "mainstream history" (though the songs do not refer to any of this) and contain photos of Stonehenge and random passages from the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
Still, I enjoyed and recommend this album.
Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald's music is marked by Paul's ringing guitar work and Eleanore's gorgeous alto voice. They draw deeply from the Celtic harmonic tradition, using droning minor chords and open tunings, over which Paul and Eleanore harmonize beautifully. The production is spare and expert, capturing the still beauty of the arrangements and even the airy harmonics created by the dissonant tunings and the singers' harmonies.
The songs on Like Water are nicely varied, ranging from moody Celtic ballads to skiffle beats (Salt In My Tears) to Latin rhythms (Listen To Your Heart).
Lyrically, the album does have its share of blunt political polemics, including Judas Silver ("We'll never know the people who make our jeans/and live in shacks and pick our greens…we worship in the shopping mall") and Talking About Freedom ("I'm growing impatient/With leaders and bosses who laugh up their sleeves/And think we're stupid and won't lift a finger…").
However, these are leavened wonderfully with atmospheric mood pieces, like End Of The Season (a wistful meditation on regret and longing reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going), Like Water (a lover's laundry list of what his beloved means to him), and the performers' neighbor U. Utah Phillips' Starlight On The Rails, which views the years of a solitary nomadic life as "cold as starlight on the rails").
The most enjoyable song on the CD is Peace Jumpers, which poignantly gives a voice to a Conscientious Objector who chose to serve by becoming a fire jumper rather than a soldier. When he heard the scorn of the other jumpers, he "hooked their words to the static line and jumped into the fire." Beautiful.
I wouldn't mind if Paul would write more songs like Peace Jumpers, that tell the stories of people of political conviction or people ground under the wheel of injustice, rather than setting political speeches to music. However, "Like Water" is a moving and beautiful collection, and I recommend it.
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