Many band names sound exactly like the likeness their name creates: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Napalm Death, Fallout Boy, Reel Big Fish, String Cheese Incident, Richard Cheese & the Lounge, Rage Against the Machine and Bob Dylan come to mind. Bookmark that concept while I bring to the spotlight Songs of Water. Once you fact check confirming they’re not a tribute band to the York, PA 90’s rock legends Live, (every one of their songs was about water?) you discover a very unique blend of worldly folk, bluegrass, orchestra, and a wide variety of majestic vocal harmonies. Exactly what you think it might be.
Songs of Water hail from Greensboro, NC and depending on which day you catch them, are a six-piece ensemble of multi-instrumentalists that have, and will, take many different forms, much like…wait for it…WATER. If you choose to break the band into molecules, everything starts with the hammer dulcimer; one could say it’s Songs of Waters’ Point Guard, leading the way, one mallet strike to the next. With a simple pivot and turn the band can sound poppy and simplistic in an Americana sense much in the vein of Mumford & Sons, like on their new single “Stars and Dust.” On the flip side, they have the ability to lock and load the fire hose, pressurizing a tantalizing sound of orchestral delight, spanning over 30+ instruments from all over the world in a slightly overwhelming cinematic scene for your listening pleasure. It’s just a matter of what kind of glass you want to use.
Whatever your choice, the music is easy on the ears and appealing to the senses. Some might quickly equate the sound to that of an exotic pawnshop, or, better yet, act immediately, light a few candles, scrape some leaves together, close your eyes and take a floating nap. Transcendent transportation is one of life’s ever rewarding pleasures—Songs of Water can take you there.
There has been a natural progression to where Songs of Water is today. Jamming as early as 10 years ago, the band harnessed their improvisational song structures in 2004’s self-titled Songs of Water. In a conversation with BRM prior to playing the Shakori Hills Music Festival, lead singer Steven Roach, said, “the band didn’t really get serious about ‘being a band’ until 2007…then we started kicking it up a notch and gaining momentum.” The band worked tirelessly, recorded and released independently The Sea Has Spoken in 2010. It featured more vocal harmonies and a passion for experimenting with different instruments, without loosing their roots in cerebral Earthiness.
Currently, the band is touring occasionally, but the focus is on capturing the wizardry for the follow up third album. According to Roach, their progressive maturity as a band has taken a real ying-yang approach from previous work, “for ‘The Sea Has Spoken’ we entered the studio with 95% of the album done and let the studio time finish the project. This time around we have about 5% of the work done and are producing the shape of the band live in the studio…we have 100’s of files, pieces, improv jams recorded and about four or five songs.”
That sounds like a ridiculous amount of work given the sonic and phonetic capabilities for the musicians in Songs of Water. From what I’ve heard so far, no matter the shape, it’s going to be delicious and refreshing. It’s certain they understand the process of conjuring the ebb and flow of experimentation. The new album will feature more “songwriting” structured songs as well as continuing to push forward and strive to pioneer new sounds with increased access to instrumentation and the virtuosity that comes from that boundary extending passion.
My favorite Songs of Water hootenanny is “Bread and Circus,” the second song off The Sea Has Spoken, a psychedelic instrumental that channels the overt eeriness of “the Greatest Show on Earth” with the driving cap-tip to one of their biggest influences, fellow hammer dulcimer strikers Dead Can Dance. The song has enough percussion to blow your speakers while stirring and changing pace enough to enchant the elephants. Don’t stop and get peanuts when they play this live.
There are songs with vocals as well. When Roach sings, his voice is very soothing and often accompanied by a harmonious blend of backing vocals, giving them a Nickel Creek vibe vocally. Lyrically, the writing tends to have a personal, spiritual, uplifting aura without feeling excessively sanctuary bound. Roach commented on his songwriting cupboard, citing “influence from the wording of French surrealist poets” and a desire to “create an aesthetic cinematic point of view.” The world created by Roach and Co. is vast and full of promise. A soundscape for appreciating life, nature and everything we’ve been blessed with on this giant ball of land, but mostly water.
If Bruce Dickenson were in the studio, recording these unparalleled beasts of visceral ingeniousness, I think he’d talk about how thirsty he is. And how the only prescription is more water.
Well friends and countrymen…I’m happy to say more water is on the way.
Songs of Waters’ material is available on iTunes and Bandcamp. I highly recommend picking up “The Sea Has Spoken” and patiently awaiting more delightful Earth tunes from their third album in the near future.