By Brian Rill
Petals as an anthology is a testament to travelers, who after returning from a long pilgrimage are stunned by the difference time has caused to familiar surroundings and begin asking aloud, “Hello who’s there?” They implore, “Has anything changed, or are we all still the same?” Indeed much is new with the maturity that comes after a long journey. The addition of steel guitar and cello adds to Elephant Revival’s lineup. This is the fourth studio album, with Bonnie Paine on washboard, cello, musical saw and stomp box; Bridget Law on fiddle; Charlie Rose on pedal steel, banjo, upright bass and guitar; Dango Rose on upright bass and mandolin; and Daniel Rodriguez on lead vocals, guitar and percussion.
In 2005, Wankie, the last of three African elephants, died in captivity at the San Diego Wild Animal Park months after being separated from her two lifelong friends, Tatima and Peaches, who both passed away at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, 90 days apart. The strong social bond between these large mammals and their inability to move beyond the loss of one of the tribe is what inspired Dango Rose to use the name Elephant Revival Project in 2008, when the band’s first self-titled album came out.
Since then, they’ve recorded Break in the Clouds in 2010, followed by the It’s Alive EP in 2012, These Changing Skies in 2013 and a live album from Colorado’s Boulder Theater called Sands of Now in 2015. The trembling vocals of Bonnie Payne and lyrical melodies of Bridget Law’s fiddle sweep calmly over the band’s bottom end while Dango’s fingers caress the upright bass beside Charlie’s slap-happy percussion. Daniel Rodriguez complements the flowing Yin quality of the arrangements with his masterful Yang vocalizations covering the soothing tone of the 11 tunes. As in his cool number Season Song, Rodriguez sings, “I opened a book and found a four-leaf clover, turned the page and there was October, as I stared into Autumn’s eyes, I saw a death that never dies.”
Petals represents an evolution of humanity, a breakthrough in the exercise of humility and raw power. This collection of songs has the force of a small stream ebbing into mighty rivers and eventually emptying into the large, wild ocean. Each song represents a prayer of homecoming and community; they echo the celebrations of harvest season and the accompanying meals on Thanksgiving. In her song Hello You Who, Bonnie Payne whispers the staccato melody, “Hello to the dawning of the star inside our turning around, your sunshine eyes.” In Close As Can Be, Payne slowly bows the musical saw, bending it between her knees as she produces a high-pitched squeal that mimics the mating call of humpback whales crying from miles under water, although reverberating hauntingly close by.
Elephant Revival’s genre cannot be defined using mere words, and those writers who implore to expound their style most often misrepresent the eclectic and mellow timbre of acoustic instruments being barely plucked. I will therefore seek to invent and implant my own description of the sub-category, most likely to never be epitomized, called Feather Light Folk. The band with the heaviest karma and weightiest name revolutionizes the art of understatement in folk music. Each whisper fills every space between the softest notes and sweetest harmonies that mark this CD. Representing sounds of flower petals on abandoned hillsides falling into water, it’s the enigmatic and succinct noise that you can only grasp through years of discovery. Start now and forever hold your peace. To learn more about the band and hear songs directly from their new album, visit www.elephantrevival.com. They are headlining at Red Rocks on May 22.
Brian Joseph Rill is a detective, teacher and activist poet. He was voted Salida’s Best Musician in 2009 and is an award-winning Latin songwriter.