Bradford Loomis – Bravery & the Bell
Bravery & the Bell, the latest release from Washington based singer/songwriter Bradford Loomis, reinforces his growing position as one of the best original artists working in the Americana field today. Rather than following a purist’s vision of what means to work in this style, Loomis makes liberal use of commercial elements, low-key rock instrumentation, and harmony vocals to flesh out his third solo album. There’s a fair amount of poetry present in even the most commercial tunes on this release and much of it is derived from the inspiration fueling the release. Loomis’ recent discovery that his father is afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s certainly provides Loomis with serious subject matter to explore on Bravery and the Bell. He doesn’t disappoint. These songs, even the most accessible, grapple with thorny issues of inheritance and connecting with those we love in a way that is never heavy handed and should resonate with many.
Loomis begins the album with a great opening curtain. “Wind & Woe”. There’s isn’t really an outright narrative presented in his lyrics, but Loomis presents such an unified musical and lyrical vision that it practically suggests such a development. The addition of musical elements like organ and gritty slide guitar makes it a more colorful endeavor and never feels like an arbitrary embellishment. “Chasing Ghosts” isn’t nearly as sleek as the opener, but it achieves the same effects in a different way. Loomis slows things down and experiments some with interesting rhythms, but his especially effective vocal and the attentive phrasing he brings to the lyrics elevates this performance several notches.
The album’s third song, “In the Time of the Great Remembrance”, slows things down with a highly atmospheric first half that eventually rises to a rousing peak and finish. The conclusion of the song comes quite naturally, each new addition building on the last, and Loomis meets the arrangement’s challenge with a soul-stirring vocal. “The Swinging Bell”, in comparison, is light and breezy, but listening to the lyrical content makes it clear that there’s a strong contrast powering this piece. The relaxed and uptempo musical setting has brightness quite unlike the darkness gnawing along the edges of the song’s words. “Drive You Home” has a great groove reminiscent of Motown soul and, though newcomers might find it difficult to believe, Loomis adapts his voice quite nicely. “Though the Days Are Fleeting” is a more muted and spartan affair than the earlier “In the Time of the Great Remembrance”, but it ends up in a similar place with a song making great use of its dynamic possibilities and ending on a high note. The finale “Across the Divide” is a sure audience pleaser and the album’s first single. It never foregoes its credibility entirely, despite the more obvious mainstream slant, and has a great love song allure we seldom hear from such music these days. It ends Bradford Loomis’ Bravery & the Bell on a wholly satisfying note and the album ends up ranking, in my opinion, as one of the year’s best albums thus far.