The rain patters on the deciduous leaves before plummeting down to be absorbed by the moss. The old wood creaks under foot as lunch is brought outside to the canopied porch to be enjoyed under the clouded skies. Lunch turns into supper, and the hearth illuminates just outside the glass windows, under the now-clear, star-filled sky.
These are some of the impressions and visuals that are inspired by Offering, the newest release from Paul Ravenwood’s Green Elder project. Ravenwood has a few creative outlets up his sleeve, with Twilight Fauna being his atmospheric-metal arm while Green Elder is his foray into an Americanized version of neofolk. The project is fairly new, just a shade over a year old. Offering is the project’s third release, but it is also part of an experimental cycle of four releases that correspond to each season. Each release is presented in a different format: Ruis, released June 2014, was a 7” lathe-cut vinyl representing spring, and Home from October of last year was a digital release with a necklace and stood for autumn. Offering represents summer with its multicolored records and the forthcoming Under Crescent Skies will be a cassette for winter.
Offering only has two tracks: “Mountain Storms” and “Cairn of Starlight,” with each song clocking in at under seven minutes. “Mountain Storms” is built around a repetitive acoustic guitar, no doubt being a simile for drops of rain striking puddles and foliage. On top of the guitar is a layer of soft vocals from Ravenwood, at times a little too soft to be easily discernible, but luckily there’s lyrics on hand in the record sleeve to assist. Different sounds are folded in during the song’s duration, such as field recordings of birds, general forest ambiance, and an accordion near the song’s end. The overall feeling of “Mountain Storms” is laziness, but not in a disparaging way. When most American folks think about the term “summer,” images of the beach, sand, fireworks, barbeques, and cold brews are the normal visual cues that come to mind. Ravenwood has a different idea of summer represented in Offering, especially in “Mountain Storm”—one of staying inside during a summer downpour, of simple, solitary Sunday afternoon respites.
While musing about capturing field recordings for “Mountain Storm” and other songs, Ravenwood reveals some larger insight into his songs:
“All the nature sounds you hear on Green Elder tracks are field recordings usually taken while I’m hiking. I could never use stock nature sounds, it wouldn’t feel authentic to my experience. The field recordings I take are carefully chosen. They are more than just ambiance. They usually represent a specific moment in time that is significant, or a special place to me in the mountains. It’s another way for me to share small pieces of my life with those that wish to listen. On “Mountain Storms” you’ll hear some field recordings of a storm coming over the mountains. That’s not there for effect, it was very much representative of what was happening in my life at that particular moment. Shortly before that I experienced a great loss, and as I sat down to write that song under an apple tree, just like in my own life, an awful storm was coming over the horizon, so I took the field recording at that moment. It’s all tied into opening up pieces of my self. It’s all honest, at times painfully so. That storm actually ended up destroying the apple tree that night. When I saw it the next day it had been torn to pieces.”
The second and final track on Offering, “Cairn of Starlight,” sounds like two different songs joined at the hip. The first half of the song is more upbeat guitar playing, with the synchronized vocals being in a much more prominent place in the mix. At the song’s halfway point, sounds of oceanic waves blend in, the guitar halts, and in its stead a kantele takes over with occasional chimes. This gives the song a much more mystical, even astral vibe to go with the nautical and celestial imagery in the lyrics of the first half of the song.
Offering is available in two versions: a 7” vinyl limited to 250 copies that has been self-released via Ravenwood Recordings, and a digital version. The limited edition vinyl is an interesting curio in that each one is a different and unique color; no two are the same. This gives the physical release an added hint of attractiveness in that the copy inherently becomes truly personal to its owner because it’s a one of a kind. Ravenwood elaborates on his rationale for releasing the record this way:
“‘Offering’ represents summer, and here in the Appalachians, you see the most vibrant colors during the summer months. The deepest greens, a lot of wildflowers of all varieties, and even the sky seems bluer contrasted against the mountains. So I wanted the vinyl to be as colorful as possible as an extension of that. The other reason is that everyone getting their own unique color reflects the personal nature of the songs. Green Elder is my own personal journey, just as everyone else has theirs.”
For a new American folk project, Green Elder shows promise. It’s a burgeoning scene, and various regional folk flavors from Blood & Sun to Kinit Her, Novemthree, and others continue to steal thunder from the European scene. It is with that knowledge that Green Elder appears to be arriving at just the right time. This is subtle and comforting Appalachian folk, with a focus on the natural world rather than literature, folklore, militarism, or tribalism. It will be interesting to see what the project has in store when Ravenwood completes his seasonal cycle, and to see how Green Elder evolves.
01) Mountain Storms
02) Cairn of Starlight