There’s deep beauty coming out of pain in that cabin in the woods.
Label: Beth Whitney Music
Time: 7 Tracks / 30 mins
This release is a mood piece in more ways than one. Its gentle, melancholy and slightly eerie soundscape reflects a depression that Whitney faced soon after becoming a mother.
She struggled tearfully to get into the studio and wanted happier songs, but was buoyed on by the thought of her grandmother’s compassionate face that gave her courage in her youth.
Getting into the studio was well worthwhile, though, as this is a very fine collection of songs with strong tunes, evocative lyrics and a misty, velvet texture – the cover captures it immaculately.
The chorus of “The shadows of a man” suggests how deep the moods were that she faced:
“The shadows of a man can break your back then take your hand
But the shadows of your own can take you whole.”
Other lyrics continue the sense of unease, such as the frustration and tiredness in “Turnwater” at endless waiting for resolution. Along with the vivid image of “Ashes on ashes ten miles wide,” she laments:
“That was just another thing that I lost in the fire
It settled in the ash and nail and a curl of barbed wire
And I haven't found the gold yet
Refined like I’ve been told yet.”
That yearning for being refined in the fire is one hint of Whitney’s faith, and you get a stronger one in “Days of Nights,” a song she wrote for the charity Shared Hope International, which works to end sex trafficking and supporting victims in their recovery. The song ends echoing Jesus’ plea in the face of suffering, “Won’t you take this cup from me?”
This disc has echoes of Bon Iver’s career-making For Emma, Forever Ago, which was created over a long winter in a Wisconsin cabin, built by his father, where he spent weekends as he grew up.
Whitney grew up as an outdoors girl and her family would go on week-long backpacking treks. “I was raised in the woods, in a way,” she comments in her promo package, so when she struggled with motherhood, looking for a space to breathe and fall deeper in love with her family, heading for the cabin her grandparents had hand-built in the ‘70s was a natural thing to do.
While there, she asked herself, “What is the last thing I’d want to write about?” so maybe that was the root of opener “Raven,” whose lyric gives the album its title and which reflects enigmatically on the unrecorded murder of a group of Native Americans in the same woods as her cabin.
Similarly lateral in its approach is the song that Whitney ends the disc with, beautifully re-working Linda Pastan’s poem “Fireflies.” Is she looking at their “staccato light” or the way that it goes out so abruptly?
This is an atmospheric collection that is very easy to play on repeat without wearying of its beauty (I must have played it six times straight tonight alone and I could easily continue).
Producer Brandon Bee has created a lush and sensitive cushion for Whitney’s hushed, whispery vocals to lie in, not least of which is the bowed bass from her husband Aaron Fishburn, and Natalie Mai Hall’s cello. You can play this just to listen to the bass, strings and punctuating sounds that make this a wonderfully assembled tapestry of song. With depth in every area, this project deserves a wide audience.