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Stone Breath – The Night Birds Psalm

The more output that Stone Breath has in their now nearing two-decade old career, the more Timothy Renner solidifies his place as one of the great folk-related minds of our times, especially to the American listener, among great names like Michael Cashmore, David Tibet and many others though certainly on a different scale.  Criminally underrated, Stone Breath has captivated listeners for years with their uncompromisingly organic and serious style of psych folk that takes on both Earthly themes and, in staggering fashion, Timothy’s unique and oftentimes surreal visions of the heavens and the workings therein through angels and other otherworldly subjects.  As stated in my review of the “The Aetheric Lamp” split with Mike Seed, Stone Breath’s output has always taken turns between these highly spiritual themes, starting with “Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis”, and the Earthly-subject albums that are usually marked by the word “Silver”.  As such, though this album isn’t marked with the word “silver”, it still seems to follow the earthly path that Timothy has laid out before it and should have actually been released prior to the “The Aetheric Lamp” full-length.  Difficulties happen, however, and here we are.

“The Night Birds Psalm” is, without a doubt, the most versatile and compositionally sound effort to date from Stone Breath and features a dual-gender vocal effort and musicianship that seems to effortlessly top their previous output, though “The Aetheric Lamp” also showcased this kind of technical growth.  The versatility of the tracks is just one aspect amongst many that make this an incredible work.  “Page 43 Upon the Wind” is textbook Stone Breath, though it take on an unusual nature by utilizing chapters to separate the music — the second of which is a crushingly dramatic and melodic vocal performance paired with exceedingly delicate guitar work veiled in the style of Mediterranea.  The opening title track features flute interludes that can be compared to the great work on Midlake’s “The Courage of Others”, whereas “Walking Sam” is a rather traditional folk song written around a central character as called by name in the title of the song.  This track specifically also features some impressive soulful guitar solo work, though it’s existence is more of a solid presence.  “Weaving the Mothshroud” has a relatively retro appeal to it and could be compared to numerous 70’s acts as well as the likes of Espers, minus the percussive elements of course.  “This is what the Sparrow Sings” takes Timothy’s banjo style to another level and features another soulful effort on both his and Don Belch’s part.  “The Snow-White Ghost-White Stag” features a minimalist approach with light, slow gypsy-like percussion accompanied by Eastern-melodics and an emotionally expressive female vocal performance.  “As Water Over Stone” appears to be a lightly Celtic requiem (“for B’ee”) whereas “To Sleep with Skeletons” is a hauntingly macabre, and honestly slightly Burton-esque, glance into “Little Timmy’s” childhood.

Overall, as with many Stone Breath releases, there is an overall air of melancholy surrounding the music on “The Night Birds Psalm”, in this case nearly all of which have individual secondary moods and characteristics.  The final track rings true the old adage “they saved the best for last”.  This track, “Mothwing Sacred Heart”, features the most expressive musicianship and vocal performances out of the whole album and seems to take all of the influences that were present on previous tracks and mold them into an overall final statement.  The organ work and warm drones that layers the background of the track create a type of ‘dirge’ mood, but seems to sum up, lyrically, Timothy’s heart that lies in both the heavens and in the Earth amongst every aspect of the natural world.  Many female vocals on the album, especially in this track, remind me of Ásmegin’s “Huldrandans – Hin Grønnkledde” in all of their emotional glory but with Stone Breath’s aversion to heavy production, giving off a more organic sound.

Every successive album that is delivered by Stone Breath increases the level that they set for themselves, and they never seem to disappoint in that respect.  Performances aren’t always flawless but those little details are what bring most of their records to life in a natural way.  Their music paints sound in Autumnal tones that breathes their own unique sense of beauty into the soul of the music.  Again, criminally underrated, but immensely respected amongst those whose souls are comforted by Stone Breath’s compositions.

Track List:

01) The Night Birds Psalm
02) Page 43 Upon the Wind
03) Walking Sam
04) Weaving the Mothshroud
05) This is what the Sparrow Sings
06) Sweet Flowers and the Damp Grave
07) The Snow-white Ghost-white Stag
08) As Water Over Stone
09) One Good Eye
10) A Sorrow Spell
11) To Sleep with Skeletons
12) Mothwing Sacred Heart

Rating: 5/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Hand/Eye (US) / H/E053 / CD
Dark Folk / Psych Folk