Steve Bell’s new CD offers Christmas respite
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.