Intimate jewel-box melodies give way to expansive, sweeping passages framing surrealist lyrics on the gorgeous new record, Stars and Dust from North Carolina's orchestral-indie collective Songs of Water.
The result of intense collaboration by Elisa Rose Cox, Michael Pritchard, Greg Willette, Jon Kliegle, Luke Skaggs and Stephen Roach, Stars and Dust is a profound display of symmetry and a testimony to perseverance, having taken nearly three years to complete.
Composed at Threshing Floor Audio in Lincolnton, North Carolina, the songs on Stars and Dust were written and re-written as needed until they fully realized the band's vision. Combing through hundreds of sketchbook compositions, the band tracked nearly eighteen songs for consideration. Like a sculptor who sets out to free the piece of art already extant within the marble before him, Roach and his compatriots were able to pull from this monumental work a refined, concise statement.
Much like the earthly element from which they draw their name, the music of Songs of Water ebbs and flows, pulsing with life, beauty and energy. Built on a solid foundation of sophisticated, instrumental prowess, the band paints with an expansive sonic palette ranging from the traditional guitar / drums / bass format to a full classical wind and string section and an array of ethnic instruments. Owing to deft proficiency and a delicate hand with which the band wields these various sonic brushes, the record stands as a cohesive whole, despite its multi-faceted instrumentation.
Lyrically teeming with imaginative exploration and existential overtures, Stars and Dust reflects the tensions of contrasting themes and unresolved human experiences: beauty and war, death and eternity, friendship and loneliness. Says Roach, "Chiaroscuro is a term used by visual artists to describe the intermingling of light and shadow in drawings and paintings. We took this theme and sought to interpret it musically, moving in and out of modalities, creating impressions of both light and shadow."
Songs of Water began as the brainchild of bandleader Roach and was originally a loose knit community of friends searching for new expressions in art and music. From this environment came the band's first album - self-titled, instrumental and independently released in 2004. In the summer of 2007, Roach met Skaggs on tour, and a new form of the musical collaborative ensued shortly after. Their acclaimed The Sea Has Spoken (which YHT Birmingham called "elegant and adventurous, a bluegrass and world music-influenced Sigur Ros") was released in 2010.
Skaggs (son of bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs) and Roach (cousin to the flat-picking guitar great Tony Rice) both grew up surrounded by a rich musical heritage of bluegrass and acoustic music, and both branched out at early ages to explore musical styles beyond their homegrown traditions.
Among the many instruments accredited to Skaggs on Stars and Dust are the Afghani Rebab, Vibraphones, Baritone Electric Guitar and African Kora. Roach contributes to the collection with the hammered dulcimer, Chinese Guzheng and a variety of West African and Middle Eastern instruments. Multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Kliegle's fluid and well-traveled approach to accordion, piano, wind instruments and violin tempers the band's American roots with a Norwegian, Gypsy and European sensibility. Elisa Rose Cox, a classically trained violinist and violist, wrote and arranged the full string section heard on the epic "She's Only Sleeping." Guitarist, bassist and composer Greg Willette developed his own unique finger-picking style, influenced by Piedmont and African Blues. Drummer and percussionist Michael Pritchard utilizes traditional and found object percussive elements, anchoring the band's sound with a dynamic exploration of rhythm.
Concerning the new album, Roach says, "As a work of art, my hope is that Stars and Dust would inspire listeners toward a sense that anything is possible; art is always moving. It is never static nor stagnate. This collection of songs is much different than anything we've done before, but that's just the point. If there is no risk, there is no art, right?"
Songs of Water has been featured on NPR's The State of Things, Fiona Richie's Thistle & Shamrock, and on Nashville's acclaimed roots and Americana variety show, Music City Roots. They have shared the stage with artists such as Rusted Root, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Beats Antique and Bill Kreutzmann's Seven Walkers.