John Mailander is skilled at crafting a story through music. His latest release, “Forecast” has been a Godsend piece of mana in my playlist this winter. Something about this disc hit me at the right time and place. This winter has been such a baptism of tribulation, the tempo matches my soul. It gives me peace and hope for carrying on through the ice. I don’t mind the cold. I love the stillness of the season. Something about this time around has not felt still until I put on this disc and enjoy whatever I’m doing until it ends after a sweet session has uplifted me. It seems I have been waiting for the revolution but that doesn’t just come in one day. I’ve been waiting for that song that defines the turbulence of society these days. This album made me stop and rethink that. Perhaps that song I’ve been waiting for has no lyrics. Maybe this is a quiet, inward revolution and Forecast prognosticates that sound to compel the listener inward.
Enchanting melodies open the disc: a winding road, a forest stroll with sunlight streaking through, urging you forward through the path. This song has the makings for a winter storm complete with blizzard-like musical flurries on the horizon but grounded in the downbeat. Paintbrushes pitter patter and swoosh the drum line blending it all into a watercolor of imagination. Was the main character kicked out or did they choose to leave? Either way, it’s getting out of here - walking your own path, bittersweet. The direction has momentum and there is no turning back. Oneida people - people of the stone - the title cuts through the serenity as the track closes. A touch of descent gives way back into the peaceful nature of this entire disc and the second track begins. I can almost picture the tired lil bird finding a branch to rest after fighting the wind.
The first few bars of Blessed Relief seems like a continuation of Mailander’s composition but the give away is the vibraphone. That signature sound made me do a double take. Blessed Relief is that cantina with the glowing lights that draws you inside. You may not have meant to be here, but it’s a nice respite all the same. Daydreaming and creativity abound even if it’s just talk of the weather or sports. There is a harmony here, a feeling of belonging that comforts the soul. No need to think about where you belong in the larger sense of it all, but for right now you fit. You have a place to be and people who enjoy your company. Other than the title track, this is the longest song on the EP. You can feel its necessity as the wet slap of the drumstick winds into a deep simple bass line building up the heartbeat of the entire selection. At about halfway, a new rhythm is introduced, like the stranger in the doorway. The sense of set and setting is established while the storyline creates more intrigue. The sax is blowing like the wind that jolted the previous conversation until the resolve that carries you back into the conversation. There is plenty of room for all these storylines as the vibraphone and tenor sax sweetly salute the story about to take place. Mailander's version is pretty spot on to the original by Frank Zappa, but with its touches of reel time that makes it all his own.
Luminosity paints a darker picture. Perhaps the glow of the neon light is shut off and closing time has happened. It’s now time to carry on. The sound of pushing forward with steel pedal guitar slides you forward as the fiddle dances on again into the unknown. The dance picks up - aptly named Luminosity, the lights beckon from within. The natural glow of this song reveals suspense and curiosity in equal parts. The guitar strumming carries on with a solid bass structure so when the bass kicks in with the steel pedal it compels you forward without any jolts or sudden turns. It just goes. The violin attracts your motion as it reflects all the moving parts you hadn’t realized work together for your benefit. It is the awakening of your miraculous vessel. Between Luminosity and the next track, Cedar House, this is the pinnacle of the EP that revolves in my mind throughout the doldrums of my day.
What houses your soul and what houses your body contain the nature of the journey. In Cedar House, the beauty of your bones is on full display. That firelight glowing from the hearth, the kettle simmering on the stove, the cozy book nook to hold your bones and brain in a warm embrace. This is the structure of the music that Mailander creates. He paints a beautiful picture somewhere between a ballet and a swing dance. Again the paintbrushes slip on the drum skin and the sauntering feeling of Oneida is replaced by a containment, not of self-control but of gratitude. A feeling of centered, easy love is painted amongst the musical bars into a crescendo of tenor sax and fiddle at home together. Is it sunrise? Sunset? Its ubiquitous feeling lets you decide. Whatever you choose, it sure does make you appreciate the way wood can bend.
Curiously, there is a video available on youtube for this track. After marinating on the song for a while and watching the visual representation of this song, it changed my ideas. There is something so beautiful about the simplicity that your own mind can give to art. The video is a whole other interpretation of what I saw. The one thing definitely in common is the power of suggestion is in the title, Cedar House. There is a cedar house visually represented in the video. My house looked a little different. I wonder what your house looks like?
Although the track begins at a quarter tempo of the original, John Mailander's version of Imagine has John Lennon’s fingerprints all over it. The sweet siren of violin leads the tune, drawing it out into a slow dance in the clouds. Those opening notes command attention to the violin as the leader of this composition. The saxophone shows the low underbelly of blessed relief and the tension never finds its way into this track, which is a good thing. Trying to imagine this song on its own without knowing the John Lennon classic - tends to a memory of sitting below the neon lights, having a conversation with Jim Croche, James Taylor and Cat Stevens. That evening spent talking about John Lennon’s lyrics - the guy? You could take him or leave him, but his lyrics were so brilliantly on point. Straight to the point and told from the heart. The way Mailander leaves notes unplayed gives space and room for this piece to breath in a tender conversation about peace.
Now Here is the 6th track that begins with a muffled xylophone kids toy melody on repeat and warped. A simple 40 seconds that leaves the listener wondering: what happened to the childhood of yesterday? How does time work? As quick as it comes, it goes. I wonder what the story with that song is? John Mailander answered:
“Now Here” is named after a Col. Bruce-ism (“Somewhere there to Nowhere here”). It’s meant to be there as kind of a pallet cleanser since the final track is a bit of a stylistic change from the rest of the record. Played it on a little thumb-piano and then messed with speed of the loop. That makes so much sense because it truly is a pallet cleanser to redirect into the title track and longest song of the EP, Forecast.
After a moment of silence, we have whisked away into the title track that closes the disc, Forecast. Some people are the keepers of the forecast. I am not one of those people. Usually, my Dad knows what the week’s weather will look like. If Mailander is the forecast keeper, this gives a picture of all four seasons in a week. Exhuberant Spring into mild heat of easy living Summertime. The longest track of the disc gives plenty of soundscapes for the fiddle to dance over. To me, it’s the leaves growing and falling. It’s the caterpillars that turn into butterflies. It’s the dust in the air against the sunset skies swirling. It’s the gravel road turning under tires. It’s the turning of a new day under the weight of yesterday, the growl of a yawn as you shake the sleep off and begin again.
When I think of this disc, Luminosity is the first melody to pop up and get me going. There is a draw that keeps the shuffle pushing forward. As I reflect on how this album has hit me in the right place and time, it’s Luminosity that compels me. It brings me back to times in the backcountry listening to Nickel Creek, listening to Sam Bush, thinking about our connection to each other and to the Earth. Luminosity is a fitting title as it resides in us all.
With the twists and turns traditional music has made, it’s good to hear new music in the traditional style. No lyrics bring you to your senses, you can create your own lyrics and let your soul soak in this disc for a while. What a combo to listen to this disc while coloring his book, A Fiddler’s guide to Moveable Shapes! If you take a peek at his book, you will see more deeply the shapes and colors come to life, so evident in his music.
This disc is what I pop on when I don’t have the discipline to meditate. It lulls my mind to wander and gives me a place to breathe. It doesn't tell me what to think but simply allows me TO think. I leave these 7 songs realizing the good in my life. I can begin to reorganize my way of thinking starting with my blessings first then wandering down a path of love. These melodies stick with you like a hearty bowl of oatmeal.