“Cameron Blake‘s Without the Sound of Violence is surprisingly dark. The singer/songwriter has never shied away from heavy lyrical topics, but the music he couched those thoughts in was considerably buoyant (or at least hopeful). Without sees him match terse thoughts on social and political matters with similarly tense arrangements. Opener “Rugged Cross to Bear” sets the album in an ominous light, culminating in the mantra “hey, hey, hey, you better put your gun down/there ain’t nobody gonna hold you when the chips are down.” Choosing guitar as the lead instrument instead of his usual piano, Blake cultivates a heavy, tough feel to the tune. The sound continues directly into the title track, which includes a noise intended to mimic the sound of blades scraping as an interpretation of the lyrics. Even the fun, cheeky country hoedown “Cabin Fever” includes the love interest crying and being afraid. In short, this is not light summer reading.
So what is the end of all this heaviness? Blake uses the space to talk about hope, hopelessness, and steadfastness in the face of difficult times, whether that’s by singing from the perspective of Abraham traveling to sacrifice Isaac (“Abraham and Isaac”), channeling the perspective of a remorseful divorcee (the poignant, beautiful closer “Driftwood”), or getting Dylan-esque in lyrical structure for “Blood in Our Love.” That last track is my favorite of the album, as it ties the themes of the album to a piano-based sound that caused me to fall in love with Blake’s work in the first place. His performance is incredibly comfortable in “Blood in Our Love,” as he lets his voice loose to interpret the lyrics for him. It’s one of the only places that he gets unbridled in an album that’s marked by tight control over the arrangements; since the track doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the album musically (although it’s spot-on thematically), some may find it to be their least favorite. But I like it a lot.
Blake’s muse has taken him through some heavy places on Without the Sound of Violence, and he has come out with some memorable tunes for it. It’s definitely not dance music, but songs like “Driftwood” tap into deep, heavy emotions excellently. If you’d like to hear Josh Ritter do something darker, you may find your wish is granted in this album.” -Stephen Carradini (Independent Clauses)
released 06 December 2012
Cameron Blake: vocals, acoustic guitar, piano;
Geoff Knorr: cello, electric guitar (1), bass (9);
Dave Hadley: pedal steel guitar, dobro (6);
David Parker: electric guitar, acoustic guitar (5), bass;
Chris Pierorazio: drums, mandolin (2), backup vocals (1,6);
Ruby Fulton: accordion (6); Ed Tetreault: hammond B3 (9);
Jill Collier Warne: backup vocals (1,6).
All songs written by Cameron Blake (BMI).
Produced and mixed by Matthew Leffler-Schulman & Cameron Blake. Recorded by Matthew Leffler-Schulman at Mobtown Studios, Baltimore, MD (March 26-30, 2012).
Mastered by Bill Wolf at Bill Wolf Productions, Arlington, VA.
Album artwork/design by Janessa VanOeffelen.
Photo by Michael Collier.