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Album Review

SAGE RUN
Running Toward the Light

In case you haven't noticed, there is a folk/psych renaissance going on. If you're under fifty you more than likely would not notice, for its roots were planted long before your existence, in the folk/pop movement of the late sixties and early seventies, by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, among others. I use S&G because unless you study music history you would not recognize any of the other names dipping toes in the genre--- The Dirty Shames or The Arbors or any of the others who dallied with the spacey side but had hits with their more pop offerings. Looking back, I believe that few artists really wanted to delve into the softer, inner places that music sometimes takes you, that it was more than likely producers who pushed artists in that direction. For S&G, though, it was a musical journey and one which served them and their fans well, from Parsley to beyond Sage, if you will.

Well, for the young, welcome back to times you have never experienced. Artists are coming out of the woodwork, dissecting folk and psych alike, though they would probably not call it such. You see, folk has evolved into acoustic music on the whole and psych has stepped from form to a state of mind and for all of the offerings back in the day, mind was a goal and not a starting point. It revolved around drugs more than real emotion. It was more Hollywood than reality. And I do not include Simon & Garfunkel as such an example. Indeed, Paul Simon wrote from the heart and both Simon and Garfunkel sang from the soul. They were an exception. One of only a few.

So what does Sage Run have to do with this? Sage Run, like Winterpills and Pepa, has reached beyond and within to revive a form of music which was never really a form--- not an accepted form--- and is creating a genre. Sage Run music is not shoegaze nor is it space music nor is it folk nor any of the other categories people seem to accept these days. You might get away with slotting it amongst any of those, I suppose, but then you would be missing the point. Sage Run, like Winterpills and Pepa, have found a niche which lives within itself. It is what they used to bill as “Food For the Mind” in the ads for Rolling Stone and Village Voice and a plethora of other newspapers and 'zines which included music as part of their core, only this time it steps beyond the mind and beyond Madison Avenue (a term you may know from Mad Men, kiddies) and into the psyche. Not psychedelic, mind you, but then again, that depends on the listener.

Allow me to preface what follows by stating that Sage Run is David Stace-James, pure and simple. Don't let that throw you. There is an orchestra in his head and music in his soul. And the guy can play.

Acoustic guitar seems to be the center of the music, but Stace-James uses piano as well and it works very well for him. Floating piano. Ethereal piano. Single-stroke notes which make all the difference, especially when they are played in dirge-like succession. He begins with piano in the electronic collage which opens the album but quickly switches to picked acoustic guitar on Coffee Shop, a song very Winterpills-like in structure (if you have not checked Winterpills out, I heartily suggest you do so, right after you check out Sage Run). The music turns orchestral on Hey There Hello, synthesizers emphasizing the beautiful melody and outstanding harmonies and here we go. He works his way effortlessly through track after track of musical, uh, would magnificence be too much? No, I think that pretty much says it. It carries you along, beginning to end, and lays you down quietly at the end with a reprise track straight out of Hollywood, segments of each song spliced together one after another without apology. In fact, no apology is necessary. An album like this needs a reprise. It deserves it.

Stace-James has been to seminary, you know. I didn't the first few times I listened, afraid that the bio would influence what I heard. It is a test I give myself once in awhile--- a how-smart-are-you test, only musically. I heard the church seep through on Angels Waiting and Sending, the choir singing to On High, a nod to that which is beyond our comprehension. Neither is necessarily a religious song, not religion in the normal sense, but each definitely has a spirituality. Stace-James' music is maybe not as secular as, say, Brian Cullman and his No God But God which is a hymn to the Majestic (read my take on Cullman's excellent “All Fires the Fire” album here), but along the same lines. Beautiful songs, all. Intense. Personal.

Stace-James throws in a couple of piano tracks--- not solo in that they are not just piano. It is understandable, considering that his first effort was solo piano and a fine album unto itself. (Piano Soundtrack--- 2010). The piano tracks here serve as beautiful bridges from song to song but stand on their own very well. Now that I think about it, one thing that really sets this album apart is the use of the piano, the single notes, the beauty and simplicity. Thanks to that piano and unlike some albums, you don't have to fight your way through Sage Run. It carries you.

You know what? I just realized that I've listened to this album a lot lately and have yet to listen to the lyrics. It is not that they are unimportant or undiscernible, it's just that I am not ready yet. I have listened because of the music and always find that if the music is good, the lyrics will find their way in on their own time. And I'm a patient guy. If nothing else, it gives me a reason to listen many times more, something to which I look forward. I might even go back and check out Stace-James' Piano Soundtrack a bit more closely. I got a bit burned out on piano during the Windham Hill craze back in the eighties, but I have a feeling that Stace-James' version will be a bit more palatable. If this album is an indication, anyway.

You'll have to excuse me. Sending just cycled on to the player and I am fast falling in love with the song. It is the choir. Or maybe the orchestration and arrangement. Or maybe it's just Sage Run. It is just beautiful.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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