As David Dark would say, “There are so many ways to love God.” Wouldn’t You Love to Know? is one of them.

Wouldn’t You Love to Know?
Steve Bell
Label: Signpost Music
Length: 12 songs/39 minutes

The title track to Steve Bell’s Wouldn’t You Love To Know? must be the most intriguing opening to any album that he has ever done. He asks a series of probing questions, “If you have to love the truth just to know that it is true/Wouldn’t you love to know?” Wisdom in the form of riddles.

Compelling roots music provides the setting. Hear the joy of a claw-hammer banjo mixing with violin and mandolin. This is not a new nor unwelcome direction for Bell. He continues a trajectory that brings out his best. Here a multitude of string instruments and organic sounds combine with poetic imagery to create wonder in a world that feels its absence.

Look no further than the gentle interplay of acoustic guitar and ukulele on “In Praise of Decay,” which is pure beauty. Bell teams with poet Malcolm Guite in offering an unconventional take:

Perhaps it’s not so bad that things decay
That ocean breakers ebb and flow away
That light ascends than settles at the ending of the day
That beating hearts can stop and start again

He strains earnestly in praise of new beginnings.

“In Memoriam” looks back at his recently deceased father, Alfred Clement Bell (1936-2019). Listeners hear of his father’s varied influence marked by the refrain, “I loved him all the more for it.” It’s an endearing tribute that is not afraid to reveal imperfection.

I like the early memory, which reminded me of one of my dad’s influences:

We’d sit for hours and listen
To the Tijuana Brass

The lyrics for “A Heartbeat Away” are written by Bell and Diane Pops. It’s intended to be a companion to Am I Safe? Exploring Fear and Anxiety with Children. Every challenge to one’s well-being is countered by the refrain, “Think of me standing by you.” There is no small measure of comfort here, even for adults.

Before I knew about the book, I thought in terms of God standing next to me in every scary circumstance. It reminds me of what the apostle Paul said when he felt forsaken, “the Lord stood with me.” When I am afraid I can tell myself, “Father, you stand with me.” Though parents may forsake, falter and fail God is an ever present companion.

The music is easy listening in the best sense, soothing but artistic. It communicates tenderness and compassion. Listen and experience shalom.

“The Home of our God” opens and closes in the style of a Salvation Army band: voices and brass marshaled together giving it a regal feel. It’s a welcome classical influence, reminding me of the majestic moments of Handel’s Messiah. Okay, maybe not that dramatic. I just like the way the voices and horns are arrayed, and to think that when I was younger I used to be adverse to them. Every judicious use on this release adds rather than subtracts.

In between the stately beginning and ending, the song becomes an unusual mix of rural and non-stringed instrumentation. Dobro, brass and a euphonium join together. It’s like a warm embrace as Bell reflects on the blessings of being in God’s house.

Malcolm Guite’s poetic rumination on our times comprises the lyrics of “Because We Hunkered Down,” a sobering but hopeful assessment. “Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.” I truly appreciate songs like this that provide perspective on current crises. With its descriptive title it hardly needs explanation. Just putting our shared experience into words is like a healing balm.

The female vocals found throughout the release, whether it’s trading lines or just harmonizing,is an excellent compliment to Bell. It’s another aspect of the overall rich production. Producer Murray Pulver, an ongoing collaborator, deserves credit for making this an aural delight.

The final two tracks are brief but serve as a fitting conclusion. They bear some resemblance to the Taize style of worship, where simple phrases often drawn from Scripture are repeated making them conducive to meditation and prayer.

The lyrics of “Together” are by Kathleen Norris. Readers might recognize the name of this celebrated author. This and “Do Not Judge” feature dobro and the latter also includes mandolin. These kinds of instruments are like the banjo for me. I like hearing these sounds and this album provides numerous opportunities.

Musically, “Do Not Judge” is a lively bit of folk and the words a welcome reminder. “Together” is a slow, soft benediction, the perfect exit, even though listeners might not want this to end.

Get this on vinyl if you listen to records. It’s the closest to what the artist intends for you to hear and supports someone making a difference.

Michael Dalton