There’s a time when albums like this had hit written all over them in colored marker. That earlier era in our collective musical histories respected soul and meaning much more than modern audiences; the majority of the music listening public, these days, turn their ears towards the sound in full flight from meaning and substance desiring, instead, for nothing more than escape. Bravery & the Bell’s seven songs promise few escapes – except through love, acceptance, and forgiveness. These are exactly shopworn qualities in the wheelhouse of modern music. Bradford Loomis, as his official website bio states in different words, is a man and performer plucked from another time and the ethos informing his art will never fail to touch the hearts of those open to receiving its experience. The album, produced by Brandon Bee except for the closing number, is the pinnacle of Loomis’ solo career thus far.
It gets off to a fantastic start with the song “Wind & Woe”. Loomis has tremendous confidence coming through from the first and he gives the vocal the same sort of treatment. Newcomers are unlikely to have a difficult time adjusting to his voice. Loomis may use a rough hewn delivery on a number of tracks, but this isn’t Tom Waits territory where gurgling nicotine gouged vocal chords makes phrasing frequently indecipherable. He uses his voice to similar effect on the second track “Chasing Ghosts” and, like the opener, the singing brings a believability and depth to his lyrical content that makes everything all the more richer. It isn’t nearly as straight forward as the first track, but accomplishes the same goals ultimately with a different thrust of attack. “In the Time of the Great Remembrance” aches from the first and the exquisitely arranged acoustic guitars give Loomis’ voice a memorable setting for the words. It takes on a different air near the song’s end and concludes in a much different fashion than it begins. The acoustic character of the track isn’t out of place – even shorn of his voice, the same sensibility clearly guides the performance that fills the earlier songs.
He brings the pace up some more on the next cut “The Swinging Bell”. It’s a song that has an irrepressible arrangement beginning with hard-charging acoustic guitars before the full band comes in behind Loomis’ voice. It has a vaguely commercial air, different from the opener, but still has the potential to get over with a wide audience in a fashion unlike the gentler numbers on Bravery & the Bell. “Drive You Home” shows how Loomis is perfectly at home on the stairway of surprise as he throws himself with just the right amount of vocal panache into his take on soul music. There’s a strong Motown influence pervading the song, but he balances it quite well with choruses much more in keeping with his typical approach. Bravery & the Bell ends with “Across the Divide”. It’s a song that has some obvious influences and scores as a love song, but it also has much more widespread potential than the earlier tracks – a fact reflected in its choice as the first single. Bradford Loomis’ third release builds on the praise his first two have received and his development shows no sign of slowing down.
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