Monday, April 10, 2017

More Letters With Chris Bathgate About 'Mended Vessl' (by Audra Kubat)

I really wish I would have selfie'd a photo of Chris Batghate, Audra Kubat, and I....while we were convening in Roosevelt Park to talk about any ol' music-related thing that came to our minds. 

It was very good, very refreshing..., to finally have the three of us meet in person. Singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate and I have been sharing letters, digitally, across 2,000 miles. I was in Detroit, he was somewhere in Northern California. All the while, we've been dedicated each letter to a single track from Detroit-based singer/songwriter Audra Kubat's late 2016 release, 'Mended Vessel...' 

This is the 7th installment, discussing a song called "Sparrow"

Your last letter kinda blew my mind. Or maybe all of these letters are, collectively, starting to blow my mind? Because, as I'd intimated earlier, the exercise of reviewing a work of art will inevitably stretch you toward a place of self-examination as well, or at least it should! This, of course, opens up a can of worms for some who might enjoy the debate of: 'Well, if you wrote a bad review of a certain album, then maybe the problem's with YOU and not the album...' I'm not ready to engage in a tumble down that certain rabbit whole quite yet. In my experience, most of the snarky or "bad' album reviews are reviews written in haste, or under deadline, and that expediency hampers one's consideration. Then again? How long does any/every piece of art need, when it comes to the time an audience should take to digest it... Questions for a future debate.

This review, however, is one that is giving us ample time, exceedingly more time, to take everything in. And I shouldn't gloss over the fact that I say "us," because 99% of all reviews are from a single voice, a solitary mind, a solo writer who presumes to speak for everyone in the realm of interpretation. But I have you, Chris, to bounce ideas off of... I'm delaying, we should really get into "Sparrow..."

This might be the sparest arrangement, yet. Although, we have to remark upon the power of that cello that comes in around 2:29. We're seven tracks into this album, so I don't think I'm speaking too soon when I say that her vocals throughout the bridge, right at 2:30, as the cello carries her voice singing "I don't want to hold onto anything anymore..." that THIS might be the most poignant, most powerful moment of the album for me. There's something about the tones she's hitting, the strings she's plucking, the timbre of it all has a feeling of a sprain, or a healing wound. This whole album has seemed to me to be about healing. There have been quiet contemplation about love, about upbringing, about ancestry, about location. But this song is about what, if anything, we can truly possess.

Anxiety is a killer, as the opening lyric demonstrates. What will hurt us, what can we actually stop from hurting us? What do we allow to hurt us... What can we do to stay strong? This song, to me, is about acceptance. Accepting complexity, accepting the whimsicality of life. Acknowledging what's permanent, like the stars, or like water..,  and what is impermanent, like love. This song is about finding control in letting loose. That's what I think, anyhow. And it has to be reiterated, the production we've discussed so far, the tender, careful, tasteful adornments of things like that cello, or what also might sound like an organ to me (your ears might pick it out better than mine...)

And what an image to close out on. Greeting a destructive fire with your head held high..., as her voice quivers into a soft fade upon the dissipating guitar...

I hear the Governor of your state just declared the 5-year-drought to be ending... How is your Spring, out there, so far?




Spring in California is all blooms at the moment. We’ve got a little more rain and cool snaps on the horizon, but overall, there’s been plenty of afternoons with doors wide open and the dogs asleep in porches scattered sunspots.

Thank you, in regards to the last letter.  I’d say the feeling is mutual, I’m in such a good place with you framing these tracks, and providing your insights for me to grapple with and add to.  I agree, that conversation–that wormhole of the responsibility of the critic, or perhaps even the audience in general–is too big a conversion for this platform.  I have to acknowledge if our time was limitless we’d be able to dedicate to a near endless correspondence on topics of that girth.

To “Sparrow” then,

The sparseness of this song serves it well. And yes, I too feel this healing wound.  Lyrically, the last word of this first verse’s first line, “Again”, adds such an intense and direct history for the speaker of this song, and immediately pointed me there. So subtle, yet so potent. The paused, gentle finger pick of Audra’s guitar leave those words ending her lines exposed, drifting off over the chords momentary dip into silence.  This songs imagery fills me with these feelings of desperate want, against a current moment, “with the tide”.  The circuitous nature of these images and metaphors in sparrow create a complex series of feelings in me. There is pain, but there is acceptance. “Sweet love it passes like water through these hands, and the more you try to hold the sparrow the further that it flies away.” is my favorite line of this song.  While, that image of water through the hands isn’t necessarily a new one, but pairing it with the sparrow make it so new. Using the image of the hand, or holding, for both of these metaphors is wonderful to encounter.

Like you, I’m also feeling compelled to mention this moment at 2:30, the bridge.  The minor vamp here is super successful, but via the context created by Audra’s chord changes right before (and at the end of) this section. As if a furrow of sadness has been drawn between the green sprouted rows of acceptance. This musical and emotional lift is intelligently paired with the image of the sparrow flying off.  Suddenly, we’re inside these dark chord, perhaps as result of the sparrows departure.

As we move through, the sea and tide imagery lift us momentarily. And yes, this image of fire, preceding the final chorus, is on the edge of sense almost, but somehow in its strangeness, conveys volumes.

I love the moments of nuance across this tracks production, the string arrangement in the bridge in particular.  It’s structure of harmony only really widening after the word “changed”.  So subtle, so potent. Which i feel could be said about Audra’s voice across this record, Mended Vessel.
until next week,

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