Jade Bell and Blind Focus – War Stained Skin
E. Weever writes…
If all art is born from some kind of limitation, what happens to art when the limitation becomes extreme?
I invite you, my deeply inspired reader, to imagine what you might create if you had known and then lost your eyesight, voice and ability to move (without losing your ability to feel – in fact feeling more deeply than ever)? What words might pour from you? What images? What melodies?
One man – a recent acquaintence of we ewes – has had to answer this question more concretely than most ever will. That man is Jade Bell of Salt Spring Island, whose music we are very excited (sound of hooves clacking) to review today.
It is true – we ewes have a certain soft and wooly spot for the artists and musicians who share our home here in BC’s Gulf Islands. And I find no exception with Jade Bell. In fact he has made that spot all the softer with his courageous and powerful story, which seems inseparable from the art he creates, in the same way that anything of beauty remains forever connected to whatever died giving it life.
In his adolescence Jade overdosed on a ‘speedball’ injection (heroin and cocaine) which left him blind, mute and disabled. Since then he has made it his mission to promote creativity over drug use, delivering his message (with technological aid) to children and youth as well as establishing ‘Blind Focus’ – a collaborative group of artists/musicians who bring Jade’s music and poetry to life.
Today we give the ‘three ewes treatment’ to Jade’s new album, “War Stained Skin,” which will be released on the 28th of March at Salt Spring Islands’s ArtSpring theatre (https://www.facebook.com/events/520961934688859/).
What fresh expressions have emerged from this man’s life of coping with intense limitation? Check it out…
The album begins with the song “Hangman” (melody and vocal performance by Ananda Sinclair), painting an image that could be said to encapsulate the paradoxical beauty and sentiment of the entire album:
With a rising sun / There walks a hangman.
In this single image we are invited to feel, simultaneously, a new beginning and a tragic ending. Writing this review at sunrise here on the farm, I am forced to ponder how loss and gain are interconnected, how the noose, like the sun, makes a complete circle and – maybe most importantly – how my own experiences of tragedy (such as when our lambs are separated from us and then taken away on the noisy truck) might really be fruitful gateways into the total, devastatingly beautiful terrors of inevitable change and grief.
A tale not merely of warning but of hard, careful fact, “Hangman” mozies us in 3/4 time through a provocatively visual, almost cowboy-esque depiction of the lonely and “treacherous” hangman with his “ivory teeth” – that merciless and necessary figure who walks with us always, announcing his presence only when it is our turn to “hang from the sky.”
I can’t help being struck by the connection between the “noose” and Jade’s initial drug overdose, which cut oxygen to his head long enough for injury to occur. Not to mention the direct reference, “He will hang you high.” Indeed it seems to often be the case that we are struck down in our moments of greatest distance from the earthiness of our life’s simple ground. Times of pride, of arrogance, of distance from the signals and messages of our body’s constant voice.
Amidst the ominous reality check is what I interpret to be the secret release within the tightening noose:
Nothing to lose / Just tie the noose
Nothing to gain / Blast off with a bang
Indeed – the precious space between gain and loss is ever-accessible and worth exploring. I thank Jade for this hard-won reminder.
The album continues with the heartfelt pouring out of “Your Song” (performed by Jackie Doolan) all the grit and soul-flutter of Janis Joplin’s best work.
“Closer” (melody and vocal performance again by Ananda Sinclair) is a bird-like movement from the place you consider desolate (“This concrete sea”) to that place which nourishes and reminds you of your living nature.
Closer to the fire burning in the centre of me
chants the chorus, housed within a contagiously catchy melody.
The song Avalanche (melody and vocal performance by Gen Katagiri) contains one of those moments much-savoured by music lovers, when the thread of feeling spools out unimpeded over rich, emotional waters. I’m speaking here of the chorus resolution when Gen sings the word, “tonight” with such stark conviction.
One of the more complex pieces in terms of rhythm and melody is the album’s title track, “War Stained Skin” (Ananda Sinclair) which features one of my favorite phrases on the album, “Whisky-soaked feathers.”
The song brings folk elements into a tribal, ancestral direction, imbued with ancient world lore as references to “ravens,” “witch doctors” and “grey wolf spirits” soar and weave in powerful melodic phrasing over drums that pound like thunder in a cast-iron sky. How’s that for a metaphor! Well done Weever…and well done Blind Focus!
The pulse and ache of a tremendous soul, under pressure of the heart’s limited number of beats comes through in the evocative, “In The Silence” (melody written and performed by Sara Brudner), which – surprise! – Jade wrote as a love song to himself (lending unexpected intimacy to lines such as,
No matter what we become
Or where we are going
I will always hear the drum
And the sound
Of your heart beating
If that isn’t beauty then Mae Dew doesn’t roll in her own dung. (editor’s note: Mae Dew rolls in her own dung).
I am mesmerized by the broad range of style and feeling represented in Jade’s work, partially due to the variety of vocalists and collaborators featured on the album. Each voice seems perfectly suited to its track, providing the listener with a kind of ‘landscape of characters’ to engage with. In this sense the album plays more like the soundtrack to a fully populated musical than a typical album. Each character bridges struggle and release through his or her own vocal pathway, making the album an exciting feast for any spirit wishing to journey farther than 43 minutes might usually allow.
The theme of ‘memory’ is evident on the record, but not in the usual sense. Here we find particular focus on remembering, more than anything, that we belong to love.
Just remember the love that lives forever in my heart
(“Forever” – melody/performance by Gen Katagiri)
A simple (read ‘uncomplicated’) and potent invitation to recall ourselves, not in the fever-soaked alcoves of times past, but in the living sensations of this open field we call our awareness. I could use a barn analogy here but nevermind – it would really only make sense to those of us living in barns: sheep, livestock and hobos. Sadly, barnyard literacy rates are declining since the influx of large, corporate ‘agro-biz’ companies who have cut spending to our library programs. But I digress, dig the rest…
Special mention to the singer of “Endlessly” (Ananda Sinclair) who brightens the rhythmic pocket so delightfully, spinning every word like a freely-twirling coin inside a slightly-larger-than-coin-shaped hole. The percussive singing style satisfies like hooves grinding fresh mud:
Are running coun-ter-clock-wise
To feel the con-tours
Of a love-lost-in-time so endlessly
The mix of vocals and groove on this track is just fun. Those who like to dance nude in the forest wearing masks of former prime ministers (a custom we sheep have never fully understood but have always enjoyed) can skip directly to this track and let your haunches do the raunchin’.
If your skull suddenly opened up and outwards in the shape of a slice of pie, only to be illuminated by a swirl of turqoise and crimson light, what would you do? You would write the song, “Night Dove” (melody/performance by Gen Katagiri).
The album closes with Paul Gill singing the melody he composed for “25th Hour” (think ‘Alice In Chains meets William Blake on a canoe trip over a 900 ft. waterfall’) followed by “Paper Balloons” (melody/vocals: Ananda) – a gentle but trembling finale that feels as it says…”Let the power of love fly free.” A soul-swooner whose 4 minutes and 47 seconds always seem to go by far too quickly. The piano riff alone could cycle for days without growing old – a true portal through and beyond the thread-bare fabric of time.
I have a bold assertion. It is that this beautiful man – Jade Bell – despite or perhaps because of his hardships, has discovered a soul secret that can never be fully told, because it is endless. It is a secret we can only glimpse and hint towards, again and again, in the sharing of our deepest pain, our most genuine warmth and our ongoing surprise and discovery: through the expression of our utter and total surrender, which could only be our Art.
Thank you Jade and all who contributed to this remarkable masterpiece, “War Stained Skin.” May its songs be carried far, like pollen on the winds of Cascadia.
E. WEEVER CONCLUDES.
The Sheet Pope writes…
Mae Dew writes…
i put it on an itz so motch food. cud i chew dadt? i reelly liking on dis one part song call’d “hAva lunch” is soo tazy! ” babee you make me … la la… hAva lunch …. ” an dressing on som deviled egg i tink dat man say its. i can bee reelee hungry wen i listen to dis digit tail down low cd !
i wondr wich banjo is on der ? my unkl gut hunged by iz hoof by a hangman tho his teef wer 1 mosstly yello not so much ‘ivery.’
i lik jade “beell” cuz iz allways ringang like ‘wake up an taze sumfin gross or grand you stinkie folks’ ! lik maybe sumfing tast good or may bee awful but you had bettr taze sumfinn cuz dat is wot yer tongue got for, riye?
any wase did u reed dat? i rote dis on my babee goat not on a paper buloon lik you did on dat song mister “paper balons.”
did u pop dat? i think itz a pop song.
an so much “bline fokus” you shud pay tension on dat name peepll cuz is somfing in dat wot halps like all tha lights wen off so now you ar fine ally get to see (cuz in da lite all this things an shadowz taking u a way frum juss yer plain ol dark nest. didn u tell dat tha darknest iz ware all yer littl eggs iz hatch’d ?? ker CHUGN! i shut bofe i balls so i cud stop seeing so much yusterday an dis tues today – wont’d to get dark an hatch em eggs ! i won der wot i sed. hi babee gote !