Steve Bell’s “kindness”: the thought behind the gift
It’s a question two-time Juno winner and multiple nominee Steve Bell answers on his new CD, kindness.
Steve Bell is more a singer-songwriter, than a gospel singer; nor is he one of those Bruce Springsteen / Don Henley influenced soul groaners that typify the modern religion-first songwriters.
On kindness, Bell is relaxed and charming and knows whereof he speaks. His metaphors and images aren’t full of clouds and fire and mountains; he writes of roads and fields, of laundry, and dancing.
He’s not a name-dropper either. You have to listen through to the last song, “Was It A Morning Like This?”, if you expect to hear about Mary, Peter and John. There’s one tune about Absalom, too, but no one ever writes about him anyway, so it’s allowed. Jesus himself gets name-checked only in the title song, “Kindness”: “Christ has no body here but ours”, Bell asserts.
Steve Bell seems to sidestep the abstract virtues of compassion, humility and charity that burst from the doctrinal texts and get to some hands-on lyrics about doing good consistently, rather than thinking good thoughts and performing random acts. You don’t have to think about it.
The songs are drifting, comfortable and produced with a level of loving care and lyrical ease that you would expect from Paul Simon or James Taylor. It is, after all Bell’s 16th album, with two Juno wins and a tour with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra behind him.
As love songs, the selections on kindness are fashioned on level that goes beyond mere affectionate sentiments. Maybe it’s the calmness of Bell’s voice, or the unhurried working-through of his thoughts that provide the listener with the opportunity to focus deeply on his subjects.
They are the mundane singer/songwriter topics —a funeral, where songs come from, love & loneliness, the occasional angel— melodiously phrased, with an exceptional control of assonance and alliteration and the sudden, stark, unexpected word of illumination.
Multi-disciplinary artist Gerry Atwell rides into the album’s cornerstone piece, “Stubble and Hay”, with a shower of raw roaring poetry that substitutes articulately for the rap verse that we now expect of pop music.
The restraint Steve Bell maintains throughout kindness makes this an unusual listening experience: there’s a forceful craftsmanship in his messages and in his lexicon, his attention to beauty in structuring and performance of the songs, and the directness of his voice.
Steve Bell’s faith does not float on the surface with banners flying and cannons blazing, but lies beneath, within the deep currents of kindness.
Like the thought behind a gift.