Bedford is a storyteller, evoking past ages, and a poet with a fine sense of melody.
Label: Waterbug Records
Time: 11 Tracks / 50 mins
I imagine that, as a teenager, Bedford loved to read literature and history, getting lost in a good novel. He seems to enjoy telling stories of pioneers and bringing the listener into their worlds. He can also write a good tune.
I originally thought of The Pilot and the Flying Machine as a concept album, all built around early planes opening up the skies.
Starting with the first part of the title track, Bedford evokes a sense of adventure, of taking to the skies when no one else was doing it, discovering new places and getting a higher perspective of the lands that have only been seen horizontally. His first-person perspectives catch a sense of going against the grain, taking brave steps and aiming for dreams:
“They told me that I couldn't catch the sun
They told me that I couldn't catch the moon
A story for the future has begun
They will see me rise into the blue.”
But the theme is more to do with travel in general. In “Letters from the Earth,” he sings of passing through Omaha and cities all looking the same – lines that could apply to flying over the land, until he sings about getting out of the car.
Similarly, “The Voyage of John and Emma” is about making a new life when landing in New Orleans. But that is landing after a sea voyage.
It is another song that displays Bedford’s knack of bringing the listener into the story. It feels like evocative literature when he writes:
“The wind in the rigging, the slap and the groan,
so far from the island my mother calls home,
bound for a new land haunted and free
with a wild unbroken as far as you see”
But the very earthbound song “The Fox” completely breaks the travel theme – unless you define walking along the riverbank as such. It is one of the most memorable tracks, Bedford’s “oo-oo-oo”s alternating with Ethan Jodziewicz’s resonant double bass.
Bedford has gone for a pure sound here, recording it in a Methodist church and leaving enough space for Diederik van Wassenaer‘s violin to join the bass in interweaving lines that beautifully complement the main tunes. Kari Bedford’s harmonies add nicely to the sound’s textures.
Some of my enjoyment of this disc drops with its thin vein of digs at faith. In “Scioto,” he sings, “Why listen to god, his silence is all that you hear?” and describes how “They'd rather quote fables and plead / knee deep in the river, The Old Rugged Cross on the strand.” In “Emma and John,” he sings, “There’s no need to pray.” Often such lines are just part of getting into character for effective storytelling, but here it seems to be part of a wider tapestry.
My other concern is that, with such a spacious canvas, Bedford’s prominent voice may be too much by the end of the disc. Countering that, in a pattern that more singer-songwriters should follow, Bedford includes a fine instrumental. “Orrery” is a brisk and tuneful fiddle-led piece.
With storytelling, poetry, an expansive-yet-intimate sound and lots of memorable tunes, this has a lot going for it.