Grace Margin Music (label)
01 October 2020 (released)
20 January 2021
This week will be a profoundly transformative one. Not just for America but for the world. In a little over 12 hours from when this is being written, Joe Biden will be sworn in and a long, dark four-year chapter will come to a close. Besides the clear and obvious policy changes that will serve to help the people of America dig out of their sizable hole, the world as a whole will be markedly lighter. America's temperament is like a magnet to the world. If its leader is a narcissistic demagog, we are all affected as it stirs up malicious intent in those where it was previously only a passing thought and enrages to near hopelessness those who can see through it. The hangover for this terrible bender will be severe but hopefully, heavy enough for most Americans to rethink their lives.
Why the political preamble? Songsmith Eric H.F. Law's latest album Better Angels has at its heart, a message to strive beyond the horrid rhetoric and cold opportunism to rediscover our soul as a people. A jack of many trades through his life, his devotion to music was put into sharp focus by the administration that occupied the White House from 2017-tomorrow. Motivated by the folk-rock visionaries of the 60s and 70s like Pete Seeger, Peter Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, Law channels an inspirational style akin to sonic master Daniel Lanois to deliver his thoughtful songs on love, fear, beauty, and triumphing over malevolence. Law works in collaboration with guitarist and Musical Director Dan Cole to deliver an album of healing through laid back, tone-rich pieces.
Law was diagnosed with cancer and his mantra throughout was “Don't be afraid!” The sentiment spilled over into the track that became the album's opener. The cutting purity of Max Hurt's organ washes over the nimble, deceptively intricate bass-drum interplay. Law's voice has a lush vibrato and finds intriguing vocal lines in a way similar to Bowie in his new century albums. His mantra to persevere on through uncertainty and strife goes beyond his immediate circumstances to apply to the world at large as it sits in the dark winter of this pandemic.
Max Hurt's temple-filling abilities extend to the pedal steel who's viscous layers are used to great effect on 'Vicious Cycles'. The use of the instrument is perhaps more closely related to Pink Floyd than its country music forbears. Lanois has used the pedal steel in this manner too to great spiritual effect. Law's voice finds a niche very similar to Depeche Mode's guitarist and secondary vocalist Martin Gore when he sings his emotionally open confessional tracks amidst Gahan's heroin and S&M-filled fever dreams.
The album's title track blends the baptist church organ with pedal steel to fuse into a divine soundscape. Law leads a prayer to the better angels to show themselves beyond our dark vitriol. For a brief moment, Law and the band lose track of their judicious restraint and rise to a combined crescendo. He urges us to heal the nation by looking within and seeing ourselves in the other.
Better Angels is a welcome collection of hopeful ballads and (non-denominational) songs of faith. Targeted messages to get us beyond the treacherous times we have been living through. Cole's musical direction on the record is skilled and subtle. The star of the record, however, is Max Hurt's tasteful textural layers or organ and pedal steel. The brilliant playing to create a mood is up there with Lanois.