Ben Bedford “The Hermit’s Spyglass” (Cavalier Recordings, 2019)

‘The Hermit’s Spyglass’ is the fifth studio album from Illinois songwriter Ben Bedford. Weighing in at just a second short of twenty-seven minutes this is an invitation to a sojourn with Bedford at a farmhouse (The Hermitage) on the edge of the Illinois prairie to witness the coming day. So rub those bleary eyes and start with ‘Morning Rise’ where “Out on the rise, west of the town, where the tall Needlegrass burns to the ground. We sit inside, together apart, and a window of light shines in the dark.”That light illuminates the ‘Little Falcon’ on the wing and ‘Coyotes’ where again we are in the tall needlegrass, but this time it is swaying.

While twenty-seven minutes is a touch short to be a Proustian amble through the minutiae of Midwestern dawn-to-dark, the songs are expressive in imagery: “Frost on the tree, sparrows in the sun” (‘Morning Coffee’); “Where the sunlight wears a garland” (‘Moon and March End’) and in the instrumental ‘Thunderstorm’ the twanging pluck of the bass string educes electric power on an acoustic guitar. Maybe this is less a deliberation on the psychology of memory and more a simpler grasp on mindfulness where the music and lyrics strive to enable us to breathe the same air, feel the cool morning and the crisp calmness of the story-teller and his cast of characters.

It is aural de-stress where we inhabit the one minute twenty second ‘Morning Conversations’ as Darwin The Cat talks to the birds and swishes his tail until the morning has gone. Save the perspective giving power of a prairie ‘Thunderstorm’, we can settle back ankles-crossed, hat tipped and just not worry about what happens when morning has gone; we just know that it is quiet on after. The latter – the instrumental ‘Quiet On The Green Hill’ – which finishes the record ushers us out with short pauses for bent notes that accentuate the feeling of time-warped and the comfort you get from the memory of once-forgotten theme tunes. And yet this is never a rose tinted picture of a twee rural idyll, simply an ode to the simple – step back, observe and ponder the landscape.

There is space in this record to do just that; although this is eleven tracks, five are instrumentals. Each track is built around finger-picked guitar that run from Kelly Joe Phelps’ dexterity to impassioned strumming. It is an intimate record with intimate themes to be enjoyed at leisure.

Empathetic observations on the coming prairie day from finger-picking storyteller

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