Bradford Loomis - Bravery & the Bell
Bradford Loomis’s third solo release Bravery & the Bell shows more artistry at this point in his relatively young career than many writers and performers muster over the course of decades. Some might hear this music and feel like it is a little too studied to pass the smell test, substituting poses and cheap effects for the grit and gravel of real traditional music, but these are purists who disbelieve any modern performer can rival the depths of traditional music icons. Loomis puts such naysayers to bed because there’s a clear mix of technique and deep passion in what he does and you can tell, from the first line, which impulse is stronger. The seven songs on Bravery and the Bell reverberate with the sounds of a man pushing himself into new territory with each release. It may not reinvent the wheel musically, but he zeroes in on challenging subjects and themes through each of Bravery & the Bell’s seven songs coming up with, each time, some individualistic insight well worth hearing.
“Wind & Woe” serves notice of an unique point of view. It is clear from the beginning that Loomis’ emotional investment in this material is high and the album’s inspiration, the recent diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s his father received, is undoubtedly the reason. There is an extra charge to these songs missing from Loomis’ earlier albums and this is revealed by small and, admittedly, purely subjective choices – the placement of organ fills, their duration, the slide guitar snarl and when it comes in the arrangement, are a few. It retains a upbeat pace throughout but “Chasing Ghosts” is a different story. This song has a much stronger melancholy tone, but it’s a song that doesn’t show its hand immediately. The arrangement reaches its goal through a process rather than hinging everything on a few key moments. The lyrics are just as good as “Woe & Wind”, but there’s an increased vulnerability here missing from the opener. The vulnerability continues with the album’s fourth song “In the Time of the Great Remembrance”. Bradford Loomis dispenses with the electrified rootsy approach heard in the first two songs in favor of acoustic playing. This doesn’t translate into a dilution of his songwriting’s impact, however. There’s nothing in the song’s construction that won’t be pleasingly familiar to any fan of quality rock music and Loomis brings the song disparate sections together It ends with suitable climatic muscle as the instruments reach a fever pitch, never running off the rails, and Loomis gives a gutsy vocal to match its focus.
“Drive You Home” is a surprising move towards R&B featuring restrained, stylish verses that expand into enormous choruses. Loomis’ vocal has remarkable versatility – he occupies a variety of levels with an ease and emotiveness that other performers, young and old, would surely envy. This sounds like first take vocals and sparkles with the spontaneity of a performer invigorated by material they love. Loomis has raised the stakes another notch with this album. It isn’t enough to call it Americana – this is personal music utilizing an idiom familiar to many, but these arrangements are just reference points of sorts for the album’s heart – Bradford Loomis’ voice, exploring his heart.