Freedom Souls brings a slightly more diverse palette to Burlap to Cashmere, with a richer blend of keyboard and some atmospheric journeys that incorporate some jazzier elements into their already-fascinating mix of classic rock, pop, and Mediterranean sounds.
Burlap To Cashmere
11 tracks / 40:10
After 2011's self-titled return to recording, Burlap to Cashmere has been busy – busy playing, reinforcing the fan-base, doing a reunion tour with the original line-up... gee, they even made a great little film! The time is right for the New York based band to follow up their re-emergence with a new studio album - this time a fan funded self-produced collection of songs called Freedom Souls – and followers of Burlap to Cashmere will all agree, I think, that the wait has been worth it.
For the uninitiated (a diminishing number), Burlap to Cashmere brings a unique blend of classic rock sensibilities and combines that with Greek/Mediterranean rhythms and poetic, spiritually-aware lyrics delivered in a Simon and Garfunkel meets Cat Stevens meets Van Morrison vibe. Got that? Okay, now forget it – because Burlap to Cashmere might betray a nice collection of influences but they sound very much like – well, like themselves. Freedom Souls gives us a little over forty minutes of Burlap – and even though that sounds like an odd statement, it's a very good thing.
Singer/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis and drummer Theodore Pagano are the core of the band, and are joined on this recording by Roby Guarnera and Chris Anderson on bass, and Todd Caldwell and Andrew Ybanez on keys – Caldwell and Anderson have been playing with B2C (might as well get all hip-hop about this) on live gigs for the last several years and the intuitive interplay on this project reflects that well. There's a warm, almost intimate feeling about Freedom Souls that well represents the band-of-brothers camaraderie of this band.
The very first sound you hear on the album is the hard, dampened strum of an acoustic guitar, appropriately setting up the somewhat country feel of the first track, “I Will Follow.” “The Great I Am” features the 'classic' Burlap sound, falling right into a Greek/Hebrew vibe (with maybe even the hint of a Latin guitar riff sneaking in) - it's an intriguing song that plays with the humanity and deity of Christ (if I'm guessing correctly ) and gives us a beautiful guitar break from Johnny Philippidis' acoustic side in a stunning solo with overtones of a young Django (if Reinhardt was Greek). Generally more understated in his studio work than onstage, Philippidis fills the atmosphere on Freedom Souls with tasty, occasionally explosive moments.
The album's title track is somewhat of a stylistic departure for this band, featuring a a cool, jazzy feel and the exquisite harmonies of Steven and Johnny, reminding me here of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Guinnevere” in vocal tone. There's more of a keyboard presence on this song, and a repeating end-riff that sails you away to a very good place in your head.
The first three songs are bridged together by subtle spacey washes of sound between them, but “Toliou,” a concert favorite, blasts off all on its own, showing you everything that's great about Burlap to Cashmere and ending with an amusing little lounge-act coda from Philippidis' guitar. It features a typically esoteric but intriguing lyric from Delopoulos (just who is this 'chosen' one, anyway....?) and explodes in an instrumental celebration following the mysterious but rhythmically-punctuated 'Toliou' chorus. The contrasts in dynamics and tempo, something Burlap to Cashmere is masterful at doing, work extremely well here.
The sophisticated almost pop/almost jazz of “16 Miles” is tempered by a folk-inspired vocal performance by Delopoulos and Philippidis and an acoustic setting. One of the more beginner-friendly tracks on the project, it shows the commercial chops of the band.
The quiet, thoughtful “Passover” is a melodic examination of our spiritual fears, hopes, and inspirations – a song of surrender and openness, performed to perfection with Delopoulos proving why he's without question the best one to interpret his own compositions.
The boys get their Greek on once again for the rhythmically fetching “Agape Mou,” which features a spoken-word section that will have you straining at the speakers to to try to catch exactly what Steven is saying (“ ....these days, these days – the planet's strife, I wonder what it's all for...”).
“Can you find my master?” asks Steven Delopoulos in the first, music-less phrase of “Brain Fog.” This unique song is a slight diversion from what we expect from B2C but shows the band's ability to rough it up a bit. It's a minimalist composition with up-front vocals declaring things like, “I've been lyin' in bed, Prayin' to God – I've been lying in bed, with brain fog...” Burlap grunge. Very cool ...and maybe even a little scary.
“I'm livin' on borrowed steam – oh, ohh, well this world is not my home – oh, ohh, please wake me from this dream – oh, ohh, Have you seen my Father's rooms?...” This might be one of your least favorite tracks or one of your favorites – I'm of the latter group. I love this song – but, then I'm a little strange...
Sounds of a city street can be heard against the opening piano that precedes the acoustic guitar and vocal on “River In My Head,” a song that Paul Simon might wish he'd written and recorded. If you like Simon's solo work you'll love this song, and I almost feel I need to apologize after writing that sentence – not to Paul Simon but to Steven Delopoulos and Burlap to Cashmere, because this song – and this band – should really need no comparisons to convince you how good they are.
If you've seen Burlap to Cashmere perform over the past few years you'll be happy to know that Freedom Souls ends with the two-part tour-de-force that's been closing many of the shows: “Dialing God.” Presented here as the last two tracks, the song has everything: stunning vocal harmonies from Steven and Johnny, the mysterious but beautiful melody, incredible dynamics, and the poetry and imagery of lyrics like:
“This secret I hold, fresh nested in my third world
my third world skies, I’m slowly falling,music slowly flies slowly flies
If my brain were real, no tricks , just realizing,
where would I go ? On this voyage dull and mechanical
My teeth grind, toes curling , crying muscles ,trying to unwind,hiding the wine I stir...”
Of course the song ends with a three-minute frenzy of Greek/middle eastern guitar playing that will leave you breathless. Try not to break too many dishes.
The solid musicianship on this recording is often so good that there's the danger of missing how much subtlety is going on. The obvious qualities of Philippidis' stunning guitar skills (more understated here than in a live setting but equally as powerful, and more versatile), Delopoulos' strong vocals and driving acoustic guitar playing are always in evidence. Less obvious but equally strong is the percussion and drumming of Theodore Pagano, one of those rare drummers that knows how to play for the song – his economy and taste on the kit is almost as amazing as his ability to bring the rhythmically-diverse music of B2C to life every time. Play the album and just listen for Pagano – it will be worth it.
Freedom Souls brings a slightly more diverse palette to Burlap to Cashmere, with a richer blend of keyboard and some atmospheric journeys that incorporate some jazzier elements into their already-fascinating mix of classic rock, pop, and Mediterranean sounds. Still fresh in the player, I'm enjoying it more with every listen.