James Lawrence Wolf and Raven Bauer Durham-The River And The Rain In It

James Lawrence Wolf and Raven Bauer Durham-The River And The Rain In It (2019, self-released)

The other week, I wrote about “Building A Beehive,” a beautiful piece from seasoned Virginia multi-instrumentalists James Lawrence Wolf and Raven Bauer Durham. I managed to get in contact with Wolf himself last week, and he was kind enough to mail me a copy of his and Durham’s newly-released album The River And The Rain In It. I’ve been playing it every day since I received it; it’s the kind of listen that you need to let soak in over time. It’s been a pleasure to experience, and I recommend this album, along with other music created by Wolf and Durham, to one and all. I have a few thoughts about The River And The Rain In It, and will share them here.

The first noteworthy quality of The River And The Rain In It is its refusal to allow easy categorization. The mostly percussion-free tracks have an ambient drift to them, but the songs are imbued with a graceful energy that keeps them from fading into the background. Although Wolf’s violin features heavily, I wouldn’t call the music classical because the strings act as more of an accent piece. It’s too rootsy to be considered new age, too active to be lumped in with drone, and not crescendo-heavy enough for post rock. It’s not even entirely instrumental, as several tracks include whispered vocals; these, however, function more as somnolent mantras than as traditional verses or choruses. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you want to classify this album, because the music contained within is gorgeous.

The River And The Rain In It dodging easy genre classification (colorized)

It really feels as if all 10 tracks on The River And The Rain In It come from the same space, both physically and emotionally. That’s not to say that the songs all sound the same, but they do feel like part of a cohesive whole, almost as if the entire album were recorded in one continuous take. The (metaphorical) physical space in which the album exists is the river pictured on the cover; the songs swirl and meander through the ears like water through an oxbow lake (I knew freshman year geology would help me one day!). As I mentioned in my write-up for “Building A Beehive,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolf and Durham improvised the album while gazing through a farmhouse window at this very nature scene. In a way, River is more a song-cycle than in it is an album, with the tolling of a nautical bell introducing the coming journey on “Myth Of Another Season” (the first song proper following the light-and-shadows reversed guitar washes of intro “Insight”) and also bidding the listener farewell on cryptic closer “From The Eleven Days,” linking the beginning to the end. Field-recorded animal noises help situate the album clearly in its physical place.

Not actually sure if this is an oxbow lake or a meander, so maybe freshman year geology wasn’t so helpful after all

Interestingly, the cover image also embodies River’s emotional space. Although the scene pictured is placid, clouds obscure the sun and add an element of darkness to the picture. Similarly, although the music on the album is beautiful, it is not simply a “pleasant” listen that you put on in the background while cleaning your apartment and ultimately forget about. There is a strong undercurrent of pensive melancholy that stirs the sonic waters and holds the attention rapt. For example, the pinging series of guitar notes that repeats throughout “Shapes” sounds like the echolocation signal of a lonely whale that’s gotten lost in a river somewhere. The hushed, repetitive vocals that feature heavily on “Before Now” and especially “Oh Well” add another downcast element, with the latter song sounding like an especially freeform Bon Iver or James Blake interlude. Durham’s voice has the uncanny quality of sounding like a sample or snippet of something else; it crackles and whispers into and out of the foreground like wind through reeds. The addition of her ghostly voice, sometimes accompanied by Wolf’s, mulling over certain words and phrases helps to crystallize the mysterious, brooding quality suggested by the music. All together, everything strikes the perfect balance of verdant warmth and cloudy shade.

To wrap up, The River And The Rain In It is a fascinating album, easy to listen to, but difficult to classify. The songs fit together into one continuous piece, but manage to stand out individually due to a great deal of sonic variation (e.g. bells, bowed guitar, a Bolivian lute-like instrument.) Meditative vocals whisper throughout, adding extra flavor to the mostly instrumental sound. The album’s faint, yet deep undercurrent of sorrow helps it to stand out from other ambient-ish music. A strong debut from the duo of Wolf and Durham; I hope they continue to record music together in the future.  

Listen to the full album here: https://jameslawrencewolfravenbauerdurham.bandcamp.com/album/the-river-and-the-rain-in-it


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