I am enjoying my attempts to weave myself into the city of Portland these last few days, jogging on mossy sidewalks while the grey sky spits rain, breathing the deep smoky-damp smell through my nostrils as I walk to catch the bus, and listening to a lot of music that helps spark and warm that seeping coldness away.
Bryan John Appleby is one of those artists whose music I have been leaning heavily on since I got here for this grad school residency; his music is smart and sharp, steeped in intelligent songwriting and crowned with a piercingly pure voice that resonates with me. He was one of the first artists we welcomed into the chapel when the seasons started to turn from summer to autumn, and the night he came also brought a cold snap that sent us all inside seeking a glow.
Bryan’s debut album Fire On The Vine is thoroughly superb, from front to back. I wrote about him last summer, after seeing him live (it was “decimatingly muscular”) and before the full-length was released. I have been delighted in the craftsmanship and the illumination in this album, which takes a thousand tiny moments and holds them up to let the sun shoot through.
BRYAN JOHN APPLEBY – FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION
SEPTEMBER 15, 2011
As I sat on the edge of the stage, I had to suppress every fiber of my everloving harmony-singing self here, because this song on the album has incredible, exuberant multi-part choral joy potential. But I found it every bit as wonderful as a solo acoustic creation – something laden with truth and honesty.
Perhaps it is my unique spiritual heritage that seems to connect on several flashpoints with Bryan, but when I listen to his music I see this complicated map of faith sprawl out before me — one that has been folded and refolded til it is faded and worn, trying to figure out how to make it fit, now. This particular song seems to be one of hope, despite lines like: “When I woke, I had been slain in the spirit of reason / Baptized in the rolling dark waters of doubt / ‘Cause I’m told it’s Your will to withhold, but it feels like treason / A rain cloud refusing to pour in a season of drought.”
Duncan (Paul Simon)
Bryan’s tenor radiates a clarity in the song that you come across just every once in a while – Paul Simon does it for me in a similar vein, and so I smiled about a thousand feet wide when Bryan launched into this cover of Simon’s 1972 song “Duncan” — so, so perfect. Listen to this and tell me he doesn’t nail it. Plus, he whistles. Yup.
…And The Revelation
This is 1/2 of the sibling duo of songs on his album that repeats the brilliant, brilliant line “you, you will not dig a hole in me, you will not chop down my tree, hold me under the water…” When I saw him live last summer, I just stood there jaw-dropped with the power of that declaration, hearing his defiant howl in concert on these words. For the full effect, also hop over to his Bandcamp and listen to the other part of the thought, “The Words of The Revelator.”
And here is one bonus song that we only have (incredible) video of. Chills:
Later this night, after we recorded in the chapel, Bryan came to do a house show for me and my friends, and in honor of the stormy night, we decided to illuminate the show simply with candles, and sent out a Facebook request for guests to bring a candle or two. We got dozens, and the room flickered and glowed around his stunningly rich music. It was a good night; these are good songs.
I am seeing BJA this very Friday, at the Doug Fir with Pickwick and Jessica Dobson (The Shins, Deep Sea Diver). It is going to be a pret-ty amazing Friday, if I can make it through the week.
[video and that gorgeous still photo with the chapel ceiling by Kevin Ihle]