It’s not often I’m compelled to listen to a body of music more than once in a sitting, at least not outside the realm of my favorites. But that’s exactly what happened with the album “Radishes and Flowers” by Jesse Blake Rundle, released this month.
The album is described as a song cycle inspired by Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium; the book of poetry that was companion to Rundle during the years of his mother’s illness and untimely death.
To be clear, this is not a depressing album. It is beautiful, joyous even, but also with a depth that causes one to pause, and listen deeply.
My favorite song in the cycle, “Nuances”, from the poem “Nuances of a Theme by Williams”, begins… “It’s a strange courage you give me ancient star”.
Though stargazing has always been one of my greatest pleasures, I didn’t notice the words at first. It was the music that drew me in. The song is stunning. With quiet drum, sparse, ringing guitar notes, and a hint of woodwind, it evokes perfectly, the quiet magnificence of solitary awe. Rundle’s clear and unpretentious voice enters, reaches out, fades, with effortless precision, in perfect sync with the emotion of each word.
In contrast, the galloping rhythm of the song “Life is Motion”, with western style guitar and ringing vocals, is an unbridled and vivid summoning of joy.
On his album page, Rundle writes, “Over the years, the poems seeped into the way I think, the way I see.” This can be felt in the music. His vocals flow with the syllables and cadence of each song and the complex compositions never feel overdone or distracting. Everything is in service to the poems.
The final song on the album, “To the Roaring Wind”, is also the final poem in the book.
What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
Rundle carries the poem’s plea with an unfaltering voice and music that feels reverent. It made me cry.
This album arose from a difficult reality. “It is hard to look death in the face,” Rundle says. It’s sad that such jewels are so often the product of intense grief, but also beautiful. And it’s exactly this kind of beauty the album brings forth. Bravo.
*The full album can be listened to HERE for free, but if you like it, please, please purchase it. Now, more than ever, it’s important to support those who devote their lives to creating the art we all consume every day! All proceeds are being donated to MusiCares in support of musical artists out of work due to Covid-19.