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Bear Medicine: The Moon Has Been All My Life

Something magical happens for me whenever I get around Lexington, KY. I find myself in a place that is not quite The South but it is certainly no longer The North. It is a land in-between, like the gloaming. It's Narnia, it's Middle Earth. It's a dream-like place where I begin to feel like I'm not so tightly anchored to the real world anymore.

How perfect it is then that a band like Bear Medicine calls Lexington their home? The band's first full-length album, The Moon Has Been All My Life, which was recorded by Otto Helmuth at Nitro Sonic Studios, absolutely shimmers with a shamanic, mystical energy. The ten songs on the album transport you and transform your general outlook. In terms of musicianship, Bear Medicine might be Lexington's answer to Cincinnati bands like Buffalo Killers or The Ridges.

Bear Medicine is made up of Joshua Wright [Vocals, Guitar], Kim Smith [Vocals, Keyboard, Flute], Seth Murphy [Cello, Bass] and Severn Edmondson [Drums, Vocals].  The Los Angeles-based music blog Aquarium Drunkard recently wrote that Bear Medicine, "doesn’t occupy a space–it invents one." 

When I set out to review an album, there are - in very broad terms - three key factors that I examine:

  1. Songwriting: the lyrics, the instrumentation, the chord progression, etc.
  2. Performance: how well is the songwriting represented in-studio
  3. Production: how well is the performance captured and reproduced

Usually, a deficiency in one category can be compensated for by proficiency in another. In fact, some of my favorite albums consist of excellent songs, performed very well but recorded in someone's attic or garage (or barn, a la Neil Young's Harvest).

In listening to The Moon Has Been All My Life, I can find no shortcoming in any one of those three categories. Wright's lyricism in works like "Infestation," "Rigor Mortis Dear" and "Guillotine Valley" betrays a dark, passionate connection to traditional memento mori storytelling. 

Go to bed, kill the bugs inside my head. It's the only way to stop 'em, Tearin' burrowing and chompin' 'Til I'm dead. I can hear 'em while I'm in-between my sheets, It's this ringin' in my ears, incessant ringin' and now I just can't sleep. Peel away all the layers of my head. And at the center they'll be growin' Pushin' out and overflowin' in my hands.

Musically, Smith's flute and Murphy's cello provide a perfectly measured counterweight to Wright's guitar and Edmondson's percussion, making the whole album hum like a finely-tuned engine.

To speak of performance, one only has to spend a few minutes listening to "Red Bird," which opens the album. I don't think it is too far-fetched to make comparison's between this piece and Jorma Kaukonen's [Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna] opus "Embryonic Journey." The evocative nature of the composition is at this level of mastery.

I've listened to this album at-home, in the car and at-work. Regardless of the time, place or the surrounding atmosphere, the production on The Moon Has Been All My Life is simply spectacular. There is a brilliant sense of balance and symmetry to the presentation that makes itself become part of the music.

If there is one pity about The Moon Has Been All My Life it is that the album is coming out in October. Though the predominant dark themes resonate with the season, this is the kind of music that begs to be played in the car, with the windows down and the back seat packed as you ramble down a highway blurred by a blazing sun while you embark on an epic road trip -- destination unknown.

Bear Medicine: The Moon Has Been All My Life is available at Shake It Records and online via Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.