In early March, Appalachia Bare received an email announcing the upcoming album release of Earth Bow (available at Bandcamp.com) by Sarah Louise, a musician from the Asheville, North Carolina, area. I must admit that prior to this email, I was largely unfamiliar with her work. But the email and this album have opened wonderful new worlds for me. I have taken great pleasure immersing myself in this musical landscape and would like to share it with our Appalachia Bare community.
Sarah Louise is an Appalachian native of Western North Carolina where she “forages mushrooms, concocts medicine from plants she gathers, and performs what she calls ‘Earth Practices’ to deepen her relationship with the natural world.”1)From the Earth Bow album release information. She began playing the guitar at age thirteen, and, over the years, she has developed her own unique compositional style. Earth Bow is her fifth album and is the first self-released record on her new Earth Bow label.2)Previous albums were released by Thrill Jockey, Scissor Tail, and VDSQ.
On Earth Bow, Louise combines 12-string guitar, vocals, and nature recordings; and weaves them together on her SP-404SX DAW [Digital Audio Workstation]. Primarily recorded at occupied Cherokee and Catawba land outside of Asheville, NC, Louise credits “Katydids, Spring Peeper frogs, creek, Barred Owl, Screech Owl, Cardinal and other songbirds” with “additional singing.”3)Earth Bow liner notes. She also collaborates with fellow musicians Thom Nguyen, Go Kurosawa, and Cooper Crain on a few tracks. The result is a surreal journey through a world where the modern is seamlessly intertwined with the natural. Louise creates an ambient musical tapestry of the interconnectedness of all things, and shows that we can in fact live harmoniously with the natural world.
Earth Bow consists of nine tracks running right at one hour including seven singles. Two tracks are “synecdoche”4)Definition of synecdoche: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage) – Merriam-Webster dictionary. that Sarah Louise created by combining elements of the singles and adding vocals and guitar that were “channeled the moment she recorded them.”5)Album release info. These pieces are the real gems of this album. Each composition is a unique and mesmerizing soundscape that brings joy, connection, healing, and calm.
The first track, titled “Where the Owl Hums,”6)The full title is listed as “Where the Owl Hums/Jewel of the Blueridge/Mossy Slope/Summertime Moves Slow/Earth Wakes Up” begins with Louise’s ethereal vocals floating above as a declaration of love: “As the trees breathe mist/ all I can think of is this love/ this love I have/ for billion year old stone.” The piece moves, ebbing and flowing with drums, rising and falling vocal lines, and the ever-present background of birds chirping, owls hooting, and all nature’s other wonderful sounds we too-often miss in our urbanized world. The piece culminates with the joyous dawn of the awakening earth. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this final movement celebrating the hope of each new daybreak. The chorus, “Deer at dusk, buzzard at dawn, big ol’ frog singin’ in the pond,” paints an idyllic picture. The morning is a time to wake up and sense the world around us: “We feel the land, it touches back, a song recalled from distant past.”
Where the first synecdoche is an ode to Earth, the second, “Your Dreams,”7)Full title: “Your Dreams/Surrender to the Night/If You Build a Pond the Frogs Will Come/Where Heron Fish at Dawn/Healers Circle Up.” is a piece about interconnectedness, healing, and power. The opening line “Your dreams are my dreams/ I see them and feel them” is answered “my dreams are your dreams … can you feel them?” The tribal drums that often drive this track are combined with haunting, cantor-like vocals to give it a ritualistic feel. This vibe is most clear in the middle section “If You Build a Pond the Frogs Will Come.” This statement of simple truth that belies the complexity of the natural world is an example of the singularly hopeful and positive message of Earth Bow. The line repetition creates a sense of power urging the ponds to be created, a sentiment restated in the closing section of the piece chanting “power in the streams, power in the leaves, power in your dreams.”
Sarah Louise’s incredible blending of all the instruments, voices, and nature sounds creates an ecosystem of music that is warm and uplifting, and provides a rare positive musical vision of what our world can be. She wants “this record to take people on a journey through our incredible planet”8)Album release information. and she has certainly succeeded in that endeavor. Listening to this record, I really felt like I was part of a larger collective energy calling for healing of both land and people. The music is mesmerizing and I can’t stop listening to it. I often find myself waking up with snippets running through my mind, making me smile, and, with all the violence and catastrophes inundating us, seemingly from all sides, this is proof positive that “music and nature can heal,” as Sarah Louise says.
Earth Bow is available as a downloadable digital album, and limited editions on vinyl and CD are also available. The cover art is Sarah’s own felted artwork. Sarah Louise can be found on Bandcamp, Facebook (sarahlouisemusic), and Instagram (@sarahlouisedances)
Click on the image below for the official video of “If You Build a Pond the Frogs Will Come.”
Featured image: Cover of Earth Bow by Sarah Louise
|↑1||From the Earth Bow album release information.|
|↑2||Previous albums were released by Thrill Jockey, Scissor Tail, and VDSQ.|
|↑3||Earth Bow liner notes.|
|↑4||Definition of synecdoche: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage) – Merriam-Webster dictionary.|
|↑5||Album release info.|
|↑6||The full title is listed as “Where the Owl Hums/Jewel of the Blueridge/Mossy Slope/Summertime Moves Slow/Earth Wakes Up”|
|↑7||Full title: “Your Dreams/Surrender to the Night/If You Build a Pond the Frogs Will Come/Where Heron Fish at Dawn/Healers Circle Up.”|
|↑8||Album release information.|