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Steve Bell’s new CD offers Christmas respite

Sunday mornings don’t find me in church much these days – chalk it up to irreconcilable differences. But man, do I miss the music.

There’s something about hearing folks who know the song, and don’t mind belting it out with abandon. You can find it at campfires after a certain hour. I’m talking about the deep resonant tones from the men in the crowd singing (read: competing) with those around them for bragging rights. I can picture my dad, head thrown back, enjoying verse after verse of hymns he’d sung since the cradle, rocking up on the balls of his feet and back on his heels. O what a rapture of glory divine!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I enjoyed the best parts of church when I spent an evening at a Steve Bell concert. On the cusp of his latest CD release tour, the crowd enjoyed singing along with many favourites – timeless hymns and Steve’s own compositions among them.

I think of Steve Bell as being cut from the same cloth as Bruce Cockburn and Martyn Joseph: men of deep faith and incredible musicianship. Steve doesn’t apologize for his devoutly Christian faith, but rather calls his listeners to ponder their own religious preconceptions, and doesn’t spend much time talking or singing about his own tenets. (see our interview with Martyn Joseph here).

Steve gently rebukes the barriers between denominations, particularly his (and my) childhood upbringing of evangelical fundamentalism. It is refreshingly transparent and honest. The mostly older crowd was a bit nonplussed at first, but laughed willingly, a pleasant surprise to me.

Keening for the Dawn, Steve Bell’s latest CD is subtitled, Christmastide. The chances that you’ll hear it piped through loudspeakers in Walmart are slim to none – this is an album that will need you to sit back and savour the lyrics and melodies. You may even be enticed to sit and read along. I found myself reciting some of the lines aloud, as I was touched by the mastery of language.

Steve Bell’s friend, British poet Malcolm Guite plays a large role on the album; several of his poems have been set to music by Steve, and in one instance—the title track—they co wrote the song.

Keening For The Dawn

…We are waiting

Hungry work, these endless feasts

Shrivelling as we all increase

We are waiting

Weary eyes take in the sights

Smarting under tinselled lights

We are waiting…

The album contains a few of the old chestnuts (not those old chestnuts, roasting on an open fire), but some of the more obscure traditional carols: “In the Bleak Midwinter”, “While Shepherds Watched”, and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” among them. The Hebrew traditional refrain, “Peace Be Unto You”, feels incredibly poignant this season, given the unrest and heartache that grips the Holy Land this fall.

I think this seasonal album would be a wonderful respite for anyone this time of year. Not just for refugees like me.

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5 comments

  1. avatar
    Lancia E. Smith 10 December, 2012 at 15:37

    Beth, this is an excellent review, in fact, it is one of the best I’ve read so far about this album. I appreciate your candor, grace, and skill as a writer.

    I have a lengthy interview set with Steve on my website – http://www.lanciaesmith.com/2012/11/interview-with-steve-bell-part-1/ which you may be interested in. I did an earlier interview set with Malcolm Guite which you may also like – http://www.lanciaesmith.com/2012/05/interview-series-with-malcolm-guite-part-1/. You may find their stories of value – they both speak so resonantly about the path of faith being one that is often off the beaten path altogether.

    Many blessings to you. May you find refuge. 🙂

    Lancia

  2. avatar
    Pauline Dueck 11 December, 2012 at 19:57

    I had the pleasure of attending opening night of this CD launch tour in Victoria. Nothing short of magical. I couldn’t decide which I enjoyed most: Steve’s candid musings, the extraordinary musicianship, or his beautifully crafted songs. The highlight of my Christmas season!

  3. avatar
    Nathan Lang 12 December, 2012 at 11:43

    I too had the privileged of attending the 1st “Keening” concert in Victoria. Abso-bloody-lutely the best I’ve seen in a while. Best in terms of level of musicianship, commentary & lyrical craftsmanship. I too found myself going back to the liner notes to carefully mouth the words of the poems and weep at their beauty. This one is a must see/buy!

  4. avatar
    Leila Ward 12 December, 2012 at 13:37

    Steve’s music: a whole new comfort for me at this time of year, Christmas has always been a struggle to be as happy as I am supposed to be, regardless of what happens all around in my family and community.
    Front row seat in Vernon Alliance Church, I sat with happy tears, trembling with the joy of my favourite singer, kind and gentle, connected to my heart. It was my 5th Concert ( I flew back home to Winnipeg for the first Symphony Sessions). I have permission this year to calmly avoid the commercial hype, to learn about Advent, to declare that my gifts will happen when I will make it or bake it or give from what I already have, which includes a group of Steve Bell CD’s. You just never know the effect you and your music can have, Steve ! Eagerly awaiting Concert # 6…

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