A founder of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (whose great new anthology I've reviewed here), Stephen Fearing has put together an anthologized retrospective of his own past, culling from eight releases over two decades, from 1988 to the present moment, adding two brand new cuts to sweeten the mix even further. The opener, Home, is a superb lead-off. Taken from the Industrial Lullaby CD, it's an atmospheric example of his laidback way with things. Fearing takes the softer approach in his brand of modern folk, an intent also reflected in the guitar playing, but can surprise you with the ambitiousness of some of his efforts. Yellowjacket, for instance, rises up into a dramatic orchestral swell, tearing open the sky, letting the breath of eternity descend before returning contrastily to the main melody.
There are distinct echoes of the great Danny O'Keefe in Fearing's work—not that Stephen is at all cribbing, but his voice and musical flow work on an altogether different level from most folkies, even the modern ones, and the way he arranges and ornaments is lush, sympathetic in the same manner as O'Keefe. Expectations, for instance, is a masterful cross of the firm and gentle, but, really, not a track in the entire CD is less than masterful. Several of them stretch past six minutes, developing theme and story, and one, the live Dog on a Chain / James Medley, a solo paean, reaches the 10-minute mark.
Remarkably, there's little to qualitatively distinguish between the 1988 selection Welfare Wednesday, and the two 2009 songs, as Fearing's been 100% convicted in his work from Day One; thus, The Man Who Married Music is exactly like a normal release rather than a gatherum, at first appearing to be a document of any period in his career instead of the scrapbook it is. There aren't a whole lot of musicians about whom that can be said. Just ask Richard Thompson and Colin Linden, two giants with whom he's worked and, quite honestly, with whom he stands hip and jaw.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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