Classically trained violinist turned folk singer/songwriter Cameron Blake releases his fourth studio recording, “Alone on the World Stage” on March 16th. The release is a sophisticated collection of earnest, forthright indie folk songs that engage the listener and asking them to view the diverse topics from different viewpoints. The topical folk protest songs of the 60’s died off years ago.
Today’s songwriters with something to say are forced to write within the constraints of political correctness all the while struggling to be heard above the white noise of a self involved culture. Blake attempts to face these challenges and overcome the barriers. Blake’s sound is reminiscent of many singer/songwriters, vaulted names such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Johnny Cash spring to mind as the disc spools out over 12 tracks.
Blake started in the indie folk scene in 2009. His songwriting is informed and satisfying. On “Alone on the World Stage” he takes on various problems but from different perspectives. This is “thinking person” music, but that doesn’t mean it is unapproachable, on the contrary each song pulls the listener into the sonic mural Blake is painting, which is both beautiful and thought provoking. Blake stated when he embarked on writing the songs for “Alone on the World Stage” he would say to himself as a mantra, “you have everything you need to write a great song, a brain, a heart and a pencil.”
The release was produced by Peter Fox at Stone House Recording in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was mastered by Grammy Award winning engineer Bill Wolf. On the album, Blake predominantly plays on acoustic guitar and piano. The different recording rooms in the studio became the third instrument providing both positive and negative environments.
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Blake shows off his vast instrumental songwriting abilities; despite the lack of lots of bells and whistles he is able to maintaining the listener’s attention without it growing tiresome as you travel through the release. The first song, Rise and Shine is insightful as it takes the perspective of the everyday person on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and speaks to the hopes both sides have and the horror they have enacted upon each other. The simple music belies the lyrics which really hits home. It points out the futility that exists in the endless cycles of violence that turns boys into pawns fighting this never ending war.
Fireman Snowman is a catchy irony filled song about getting through the winter season. It starts with the taking down of the Christmas tree and ends with the beginning of spring. In North Dakota Oil Blake sings as the personification of the state. Comparing the sleepy quiet of the state prior to the oil boom, to what has followed. The accompaniment helps in painting an exquisite and detailed scene of the current situation. It is all the best of folk protest found in a song.
The Fisherman feels like it is taking a page from Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” with Blake using his palette of voice and strings to create this bittersweet story of yearning and love. Piccadilly Circus is the most lighthearted track in the collection. The song reminds me of a Robyn Hitchcock monologue. The protagonist of the song is attempting to drink the girl who got away off his mind, while trying to figure out where it went wrong.
Detroit is a stand out track which examines the financial failure of that city through the eyes of an impoverished woman stuck in the ruins. Blake travels through the abandoned cityscape wondering at the status of those left behind. Chastising those who simply want the last person left to make sure to turn off the lights; it is a moving song that gets under your skin.
On Home Movie Blake moves to the piano for another evocative song. The set up is watching old home movies. The subject the melancholy memories that are brought to the surface with all the embarrassment of toddlers in underwear, bad hair and the breath catching sight of loved ones now gone as they were once. The piano performance draws out the last drops of emotion in the song.
Another standout on the release is Ultrasound which is dedicated to Blake’s then unborn daughter. It is without a doubt a beautiful song about the promise in the arrival of a child and the wonderment and beauty of creation, “…with the angels who are painting one more masterpiece.” The song carries all the excitement of the impending event. “Everytime I see you I just love you more.” You would have to be tremendously hardhearted not to love this song.
Welfare Street is an introspective and hard hitting song about those who have surrendered to the undertow of dependence and poverty. It also speaks to the hypocrisy of those in power who give lip service to those found in this undesirable state, but do very little to actually help. “Now I am a cripple out here on Welfare Street”, explains the dilemma of the last decade with the middle class fearful and anxious about landing on Welfare Street. It is a biting song that is quiet but powerful in making its point. No one wants to be here, but many are finding it harder and harder to get out.
Kabuki Theatre takes up where Welfare Street leaves off, likening government to political theatre accomplishing little for those it proposes to champion. The final song Fragile Glory is a beautiful summing up of the album. It conveys the beauty of humanity warts and all. Pointing out that even in humanity’s most off putting incarnations we have redeeming qualities. “We are human, hallelujah, constraining what we can’t control.”
There is little musical distraction on the release; simply Blake playing his guitar and piano vocally pouring out his feelings. It is a fine attempt to inject thoughtful introspection into the world we find ourselves living in, and lyrically it is extremely enveloping. The string arrangements are impeccable and it is
certainly a worthy addition to the indie folk cannon.