Album Review: SoulSpiral by Steve Brand

CD cover: SoulSpiral by Steve BrandSteve Brand has just released a remastered edition of his 2008 release SoulSpiral, the first offering on his own Pioneer Light label. On the album’s initial release, Steve wrote:

SoulSpiral represents a new phase of work for me, in which I felt the desire to explore the creation of longer, more dense zones which unfold slowly over longer periods of time, as opposed to shorter “songs.” … While the first track initiates the journey, Worldmaker brings the listener to the other side, into dimly lit worlds, other possible universes, other possible selves.”

Steve has certainly succeeded in creating the greater density he was after. SoulSpiral offers two complementary pieces highlighting the twin strengths of his music: the ethereal and the earthy. The term “soundworlds” is perfectly apt here; they are intense, thrilling and richly textural. The sum is a shamanic journey of discovery, letting go and renewal.

The title track begins with a rich, organic, metal-tinged drone space. Synths, voices and didgeridoo sing of possibilities beckoning, in a living space always becoming, always inviting, full of light and therefore not fearing the shadow. New doors – shafts of starlight and angelsong – continually open, leading everywhere. This ether is breathtaking and luminous. Singing bowls expand to solar size.

One gets the feeling that the music created the man; the music has always been here, awaiting its musician-channel to our small world. We are challenged to leave our comfort zones behind, for the exhilaration of rebirth, of discovering our true selves. That quest takes us across galaxies, eons, deep into our own heartbeat, breath and tears – leading to that ageless truth which every soul must embrace.

We’re grounded, but only in the fabric of spacetime – not bound to this or that world. Roaring bowls in the last few minutes herald a great revelation to come. The music is mysterious but strangely comforting, a return to a long-forgotten home.

If I understand him at all, this sums up Steve Brand’s musical ethos and life mission: this is why he loves making music. I venture that this is also an important part of Brand’s appeal for his audience.

To begin the second piece, WorldMaker, Tibetan horns sound the call, immediately bringing us to earth (or to some world). I love the growling low drone (reminiscent of Tibetan overtone chanting) with a faint shaft of light piercing the cloud cover. Kora (West African bridge-harp) provides a melodic texture over thundering drums, both filling a vast space.

As Steve observed in his original album notes, this piece has a more “terrestrial” feel than the other – but it could be any world. It is certainly well outside our comfort zone, but this challenge is exhilarating and liberating.

Near the 10-minute mark, voices begin to ebb and flow, along with the kora and the waxing-and-waning drone. Distant drums and intoxicating, endlessly-droning voices, with that faint shaft of light always pointing the way beyond. At 23 minutes, a new voice joins the mystic chorus, as cymbals and gongs chime in. In the end, all the voices fade away, leaving us with indelible memories of the journey – it was no dream.

SoulSpiral beautifully embodies the yin-and-yang of Steve Brand’s musical aesthetic: exploration and introspection, stillness and ecstacy, ritual and revelation.

It’s available at CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Steve Brand at Cahokia State Park, IL

Steve Brand at Cahokia State Park, IL

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