The new album from Bradford Loomis, Bravery & the Bell, is ripped from a very private place in this Pacific Northwest based songwriter’s life. The seven songs on this release give flesh and blood life to some of Loomis’ innermost thoughts and shroud them in an approachable sound. The sound never betrays any desire to need for commerciality – there are ample melodic virtues working through each of the seven cuts, often in radically different contexts, but the performances have a natural approach that seems like the tracks could have been cut live in the studio. It’s a tight, well-rehearsed sound that, nevertheless, maintains a comfortable and confident looseness. The lyrical content is pure conversational poetry. Loomis never obscures his emotions under layers of inaccessible imagery, but he does prove to possess quite a flourish for this material. The songs on Bravery & the Bell investigate issues that haunt all our lives as we get older – what did our elders leave us and what will we leave those who we have raised or been close to? What do we do with the ghosts from our past to encourage acceptance? Loomis tackles that and much more.
There’s a strong rollicking country influence coming through in much of Loomis’ music and it merges nicely with the roots rock vibe on the opener “Wind & Woe”. Loomis has a great voice for this songwriting and the soulful growl he manages with his singing matches up well with the lyrics. He has a sure sense of self – none of them seven songs on Bravery & the Bell ever overextend themselves or waste a note or word. “Chasing Ghosts” is far less straight ahead, but communicates in its own way. The mood is even more downtrodden than what we heard during the first song, but it never becomes so much so that the audience doesn’t get any room or reason to breathe. Bravery & the Bell take another turn on the song “In the Time of the Great Remembrance” into largely acoustic territory. It pulls Bravery & the Bell away from the striding folk rock posture of the first two songs into something much more crystalline and fragile. Loomis’ sometimes harsh voice does well with songs like this because his instrument is deceptively flexible; he imbues the fine lyric with all the nuance and sensitivity it demands.
Loomis’ “The Swinging Bell” raises the tempo and it makes for a nice transition from the previous song. This is an airy folk rocker built around the acoustic guitar and accumulating energy as it evolves. Loomis delivers his vocal with considerable gusto and the burnished quality of his voice is ideal in this particular musical setting. He clips off the rough edges of his singing and adopts a surprisingly smooth delivery with the song “Drive You Home”. The soul leanings of this track are quite unlike anything on Bravery & the Bell dovetails nicely into the lyrics and the stylish guitar flourishes are delectable. Bravery & the Bell closes on a strong commercial note with the song “Across the Divide”, but its clear radio-friendly aim never compromises the authenticity filling this song. Few performers can pull this off. Loomis merges accessible melodies and textures with well crafted lyrics and a tight fidelity to traditional forms. It makes for an impressive listen.