The heartfelt nature of Cameron Blake’s art comes honestly. There’s no self conscious framing of sentiment and drama – he’s seen life’s peaks and valleys from surviving a near nervous breakdown during his tenure studying violin at the Peabody Institute of Music to the satisfying and demanding glories of experiencing fatherhood. His music contains a rare quality in popular music. The quality is empathy and his talent as a songwriter for being able to place himself inside of any experience and produce memorable artistic results. He doesn’t restrict himself either. There’s no subject that doesn’t fall within Blake’s wheelhouse and the fantastic music he crafts to carry his lyrical explorations are every bit as rich and powerfully moving. There are few musical experiences today as complete as Fear Not and it will surely elevate Blake’s reputation to loftier than ever heights.
Few albums you’ll hear in 2017 have a more impressive opening. Putting one confident foot forward, Blake begins the album with its title track and we have an immediate statement of purpose. There’s a connotation that comes with artists opening their albums with the title track based around that idea that it is, customarily, a pivotal number somehow defining the release as a whole. It certainly seems to be the case here. “Fear Not:” is a beautifully crafted, sumptuous ballad hinging largely on the piano playing and deriving much of its would-be grandeur from the classical implications of its arrangement. Blake does a superb job bringing classical influences together with pop in such a way that they complement and enrich each other while still maintaining an interesting sonic tension. “The Only Diamond” is another of the album’s breathtaking peaks as Blake unleashes a wildly inventive arrangement that never comes off cluttered despite its abundance of ideas. While Blake’s training as a musician is firmly ground in playing instruments, his voice is a deceptively elegant instrument as well and the phrasing he brings to this material deserves noting for its nuance and dramatic depth.
“Fool’s Gold” is exquisite. It’s jaw-dropping, carefully wrought, and impossibly atmospheric. It never overstates itself however – there’s no gaudy, outsized moment of musical madness to draw listeners in but, instead, a considered and structure piece that nevertheless doesn’t come off too plotted out. The mix of piano, spectral organ, and Blake’s versatile singing is enough to carry the song alone. “Tiananmen Square” is another marquee number on Fear Not and certainly does a first class job with characterization. There’s no wasted motion either musically or lyrically and the seamless it shows in coming together is rare even on an album of this quality. One can’t ever accuse Blake of playing it safe. There’s definitely a light Americana/folk feel with the track “Old Red Barn” reminiscent of the earlier “After Sally”, but Blake has a strong enough artistic sensibility that he can’t resist tweaking that traditional sound and stripping it down to its most essential elements. The less is more principle driving much of the album’s song craft is a service to Cameron Blake’s vision and makes it more memorable as a result. The track “Philip Seymour Hoffman” shows his capacity for surprise as his skills with character development in song take on a practically novelistic turn and, delightfully, reveal as much about Blake as they do his subject matter. The artistry and range of emotion defining Fear Not is truly revelatory; we had plenty of notice that Blake is a major talent, but this marks that moment in the careers of a choice few major talents when their talents take them straight out of the stratosphere and into rarefied air.