Peter Bradley Adams: LEAVETAKING
2008 / Sarathan Records
9 tracks / 32:44 minutes
Reviewed by Tobin Mueller
This is a quiet album. Full of ghosts, alive with echoes of deeper energies, vibrating with the vanishing lines of past and present. The music captured is pure and still and enveloping. Every track is gentle, delicately intelligent, soothing. The perfect production strikes just the right balance between clarity and warmth and made me want to re-listen over and over. This album caresses.
There is also a sense of loneliness that overhangs, an inability to shed burdens, a reticence to embrace wholeheartedly, a sense of drifting, that makes this almost a sorrowful album (in my ears). Yes, it is mediated by a generous gratitude that the journey is well worth every pain. The music itself provides faith, a beauty Peter and co-producer Lex Price capture so brilliantly, something beyond words (one of the reasons the album ends with a sweet and sad instrumental waltz, I believe). But from Peter’s vocal delivery, I get the feeling that he doesn’t smile much in these songs – that he loiters too easily in the meaningful places of solitude.
The album opens with my favorite tune, The Longer I Run. It speaks about being caught between hope and regret, self-creation and uncertainty, and made me feel like I wanted to follow Peter into the desert, even if he is warning me not to go. A great way to start an album.
when my blood runs red with an old red wine
I miss the life that I left behind
but when I hear the sound of the blackbird’s cry
I know I left in the nick of time
the longer I run then the less that I find
sellin my soul for a nickel and dime
breakin my heart to keep singin these rhymes
and losin again
tell my brother please not to look for me
I ain’t the man that I used to be
but if my saviour comes would you let him know
I’ve gone away for to save my soul
This is followed by the mostly ghostly song of all, a fabulous dreamlike moment, Los Angeles.
you carried us in broken dreams
like a mother does her sons
we were scattered ‘cross your dirty streets
we were dying one by one
but you held us in your city lights
when our eyes had lost the stars
and we made our peace with lonely nights
and you healed our broken hearts
well they say the big one’s gonna come
and you will fall into the sea
but we will know that then your work is done
and your angels will go free
When I asked Peter why he left LA and ended up in Nashville TN, his current home, he told me, “I just needed to get out of LA. I was drawn here by the music scene and I knew I was going to be recording my record here with Lex Price. And I’ve stayed.” The poetry in Los Angeles speaks to much more than this sort of simple answer. It leaves just enough space for us to fill in our own pain, our own need for change. But what struck me most was the freeing sense I felt with the final line, as if even if disaster comes (and, perhaps, especially when it comes), we are all as winged as angels, inside.
The next tune, I’ll Forget You, featuring Lex Price on banjo, talks of a man who cannot let go, who cannot hold on, caught between motions.
as the space around me grows
I need the touch of your skin
so I wear this ring of gold
til I forget you
With that almost overlooked phrase, this ring of gold, what was perhaps an ordinary lyric becomes something hard, impossible to escape. Like choices, and inabilities, and expectations. Yet, he is able to sing these words with such control, almost an emotional detachment. I want it to be an expression of the fortitude that comes from understanding, but sometimes it merely slips into resignation, this sadness.
As the album proceeds, there is something comforting yet wanting in the evenness across the subtle palette of emotions presented here. Yes, the album is an absolute success – great production, perfect playing, solid writing, coherence of audio concept across each track – yet, I long for more specific intimacy, deeper secrets, specific histories, a moment that breaks out of this singular mood, something that might uncover things I have not touched before. I am a restless listener, as Peter seems to be a restless songwriter, yet the kinship I felt at the warmth of his sound stopped short of transcending into new truths, as when I listen to Jackson Browne, David Wilcox or Sam Beam. Perhaps I am reminded too much of my own lonely places that I am unable to let go of.
Then I listen to the magnetic music and wonder why I want more than this? Moments in time, full yet less than we may need, are what life is made of. Perhaps the answer is in the song Keep Us:
when the rain set in we had nowhere left to go
so we just stayed in bed while the thunder rolled
there’s a comfort in the rain, one that lovers only know
so we lay hand in hand while the water rose…
there’s a lesson in the rain that change will always come
let us ride this wave and then greet the sun
and though the ground may shake and we’ll think
we’ve had enough
we must raise our flags for the ones we love
so keep us, keep us from the storm
…and I understand the brilliant strength of this journey. Songs of leavetaking. And newfound sanctuaries.
I highly recommend this album.
Peter Bradley grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where he began playing classical piano when he was six. His grandfather, who had been a professional clarinet player in big bands as a young man, was his first inspiration. Peter would crawl under the piano whenever he came to visit and listen to him play.
Peter dabbled in songwriting when he was kid, but always sang so no one else in the house could hear him. He went on to study a lot of music, majoring in music in college, obtaining a master’s degree in composition, playing in an R&B band on the side, and eventually studying piano in Germany. Yet, even while doing all this, he was drawn mostly to songs, approaching his music as a songwriter.
After grad school, he move to Los Angeles to study film scoring and was soon writing music for television and films – “Some more rewarding than others,” he says. But again, his heart wasn’t in it. He finally reached the point where he began to write the music he wanted to write. Very shortly after that, he met Kat Bode (formerly Maslich), and formed the duo eastmountainsouth.
Within a year eastmountainsouth was signed by Robbie Robertson to DreamWorks records. Their debut was co-produced with Mitchell Froom. (Read about them here – and intriguing mix of folk/bluegrass with some decidedly modern production. Imagine if the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was produced by Peter Gabriel. The duo sold approximately 600,000 copies of their debut album and their single, “You Dance” was a #1 AAA radio hit and in the top 5 for two months in 2003. The song “Hard Times” was featured in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown and was included on the soundtrack.)
Up until the point of signing on with DreamWorks, Peter had done little to no live performing. It was a terrifying prospect for Peter to get up and sing in front of people. But he had no choice. And one of the reasons he was able to do it was because their music was nearly constant vocal harmonies. He was able to feed off of Kat’s confidence. During the next year and a half of touring they opened for Joan Baez, Lucinda Williams, Traci Chapman, Nelly Furtado, and performed at the Hollywood Bowl before for Lyle Lovett and Shelby Lynn.
Then the record label was bought. The duo was shifted to a couple of different labels but eventually dropped. Peter felt more and more that he wanted to work as a solo artist. He would have to start over. “It has been an amazing and humbling journey from then to now,” Peter says. “I had to learn to sing in front of people without the comfort of harmony on every song. And often, there was no other way to do it than getting up and sucking in front of lots of people. But when I listen to LEAVETAKING, for the first time I can honestly say it sounds like me.”
Peter has a solo album from late 2005, as well. Gather Up consists of heavily orchestrated folk infused rock music, beautifully executed songs about heartbreak and happiness, triumph and failure. But LEAVETAKING has a greater intimacy, is more Peter, perhaps. Songs before a new beginning. You will love this album.
Where to buy:
• Leavetaking from Amazon.com
• Available from CDBaby soon