The New Zeitgeist: Myths and Mortals (Album Review)

The New Zeitgeist of Chiacgo recently released an album that is cinematic, fresh and lush– featuring the harmonies of founders Jen Reilly and Eddy Bluma, on orchestrated songs with Gerald Dowd, John Abbey (Kingsize Sound Labs), Alton Smith as well as Austin City Limits Hall Of Fame member Lloyd Maines.

This album slams into the water like a giant whale’s tail and swallows you whole: Myths and Mortals comes suddenly and overtakes you.

This is country music without the dirt and dust, simply the soaring voices and storytelling, wrapped in layered arrangements with symphonic depth and vocal beauty which is normally reserved for classical music. Delivering mood as the main ingredient, these songs create visuals with bits of stories and characters which read like movie scores to a movie we can’t quite see, just imagine.

Using imagery which recalls America’s Wild West, the mysteries of personal journeys, as well as hints of Elizabethan ballads, the album is built on the foundations of the real past. Like a novel, it creates its own reality. Like a dream, it is a collage of past and present.

The album Myths and Mortals is full of galloping rhythms, instrumentation of guitar, lap steel, flute, drums, organ, and more. The vocals of Jen Reilly burn fire-like throughout, creating embers which catch the imagination. They stand out most on “Desert Rose”, a country ballad where fans of Patsy Cline are defied to not melt. “Looking Glass Man” is reminiscent of Grace Slick with Jefferson Airplane with the grunge replaced by ethereal waves, thanks to vocals and perfect cymbal crashing, creating a bath of sonic beauty.

“Kingdom Highway” is the song that hints at America’s gospel tradition, with Kingdom Highway being a metaphor for Kingdom Come; where the narrator hears a joyful noise, drawing them in, and hears the angels singing a joyful tune. Organ fills in and the song establishes a groove with a comfortable hook on guitar that sets off the vocals. Several tracks feature Eddy Bluma on vocals, which balances the album as he shares a steadfast world-worn wisdom which foils the ethereal.

The music stakes its own ground with dignity. This is not folk music in an “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” aesthetic, or a retro rockabilly country style full of kitsch and vintage thrift store costumes, rather, its artifice is holistic– it seeks to envelop you completely, rather than simply be a novelty. To achieve this, there is not a hair out of place. With formalities in delivery and execution, it allows us to take refuge in the mysteries of the past, while creating a present in which reality is defined by what surrounds us. Like finding an old trunk in an attic and being pulled into another world, the album uses the artifacts of the past to awaken our curiosity and help us unearth new emotions in the present.

A convergence of influences work hand in hand. Scales and modes recall the Eastern influence on the Western United States through Chinese immigrants, as well as Native American influence on the American West, mixed with the stories of pioneers and explorers who dealt in a land of strange beauty and savage mysteries.

Storytelling by Bluma on tracks like “The Ghost Trail” include lines “red dusty streets…miner’s regrets and gambler’s debts…”, recalling the red clay of the South, as well as imagery of cliffs and cobblestone.  The chorus about a ghost trail not only refers to Westward expansion, but also to our personal pilgrimages. On “Fear of Little Men”, the vocals of Reilly and Bluma work together expertly, with a mysterious hook that keeps the song engaging. The upbeat “Lack of Linear Thought” is a present-day pop song, with a fun organ riff that induces smiles.

The American West mirrors personal paths, with the unforeseen challenges and victories as well as inevitable defeats at the hands of fate– yet even within this there is beauty. Instead of a textbook about the past, or a caricature of it, I sense the timelessness of it. This is the great achievement of this album. For a time when we all might want to take a break from smartphones and current events, this album offers not only a portal to another world (which is relaxing, epic and full of waderlust) but the reminder that we create our own realities.

To purchase Myths and Mortals album on Amazon, click here.

To learn more about The New Zeitgeist, click here.

Photo Credits: David Sameshima
Article: Hannah Frank axis.contact@gmail.com