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Tending Both Sides
Artist: Ethereal 
Label: Independent
Time: 15 tracks/51:43 minutes
"Artists donít like to categorize their music," an editor of a local publication said to me. Reporters and reviewers are subject to that temptation, but even when I tried, I found it hard to categorize the music of Ethereal. The dictionary defines the word ethereal as light, airy or tenuous. Another meaning is extremely delicate or refined. 
Light and airy seems fitting. Ethereal is predominantly acoustic with a contemporary pop/folk sound. The bass, drums and even electric guitar keep them from falling into more traditional folk and bluegrass categories. Violin is consistent and sometimes central, bringing to mind the work of the late sixties group, Itís A Beautiful Day. The combined presence of mandolin, dobro, the occasional use of hand percussion, and intricate music, makes them sound Celtic without the pipes and whistles. Itís a category that they could easily fill, but then they wouldnít be themselves.
Their music is punctuated by refined and sometimes delicate guitar picking and strumming. Some songs border on light rock, making me want to compare them with a mellower and less Celtic, Ceili Rain. Though there are two more ethereal-sounding instrumentals, it would be a mistake to associate this band with low whistles, dreamy soundscapes and layered background vocals. 
Vocals alternate between husband and wife, Stokes and Connie Skellie, and the main songwriter, Corey Nolen. Lyrically the band offers some uncommon reflections. On "Where Do You Go?" there is a twist to the usual idea of finding refuge in the storm. "Donít seek your shelter from the storm . . . a little pain might just bring a change of heart." 
Those who feel like life is leaving them behind will cherish "Same Old Streets." It gives voice to the thought that everybody knows some secret that they donít. "You Are There," one of the bandís most requested songs, is a thoughtful expression of praise. Itís piano-driven and evokes comfort, affirming that God is present when the lions threaten to devour us.
This being their sophomore effort, the bandís website offers an explanation for the title. "We named the CD _Tending Both Sides_ because often times we are called to share an unchanging and satisfying message to a swaying and unfulfilled world. Just like the suspension bridge connecting two sides, we are stretched with the tension of being the mediators of expressing the Truth of the Gospel with all its mercy, grace and holiness to the other side of the spectrum, which hosts the needy, tried, and broken of the world."
They also bridge the gap between several different styles of music, which makes categorization so difficult. In the end, the comparisons and attempts to define fall short. Ethereal deserves credit for developing a unique sound. However, if you appreciate a Christian worldview and thoughtful folk/pop with diversity and punch, you will probably like this. 
Michael Dalton
February 8, 2006



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