The Personal and the Political
Beloved Infidel (ear X-tacy Records)
Manifesto: a statement of strong belief, a code by which to live, a guide, the instruction manual for your soul or whatever drives you. Manifestos are announced to the world by actions taken by the person or persons declaring them. Sometimes they're written and published, maybe even publicly recited. Or they can be wrapped in music and scattered out to the public. Some do it with a specific agenda, a fervent hope to change the world, or at least let the rest of us know where they stand on certain issues, which can be either political or personal or both.
Two recent releases from a pair of Louisville acts provide audio manifestos of each type: Beloved Infidel from Bryan Hurst and Closer to Daylight from the female duo Irrational Fear (featured on the cover of the March issue of this very newspaper). Their respective manifestos differ as much as their sounds do. Hurst's Infidel is a blazing, wall-of-sound screed against the current presidential administration and the politics that drive it, while Irrational Fear's Closer is more of a relaxed, personal declaration of lessons learned from bad relationships, judgmental people and new love discovered. In both releases, the performers give us more than glimpses into their lives. They open their hearts and minds and let their contents pour out. Put another way, Hurst and Irrational Fear open the faucets and let the tubs fill.
Generally absent from the Louisville music scene for a number of years, Bryan Hurst has stormed back with Beloved Infidel. Truth to tell, it really cannot be considered (according to some in the music trade who have a handy list of common, unoriginal phrases) a "long-awaited follow-up" to 1998's Waiting for Favors. That memorable release was a mix of alt-country instrumentation (lap steel, acoustic guitars, violin and lots of piano) with witty lyrics. Infidel, however, finds Hurst reaching back to his punk roots from nearly two decades ago. There's an anger and drive in Infidel that wasn't in Favors, so it isn't a follow up in the sense that Hurst is not working again in a music style that was a comfortable (even though it seemed temporary) fit.
The only connection between the two is that he uses several of the same musicians on this new release that he used on the previous one. Jim Baugher is back on bass, David Barrickman returns on keyboards, Hurst's mentor Tim Krekel once again provides some help on lead guitar and Laura Shine rejoins for some backing vocals. For Infidel, Mark "Lupe" Hamilton is added on guitar, Aaron Montgomery is on drums and Gary Hicks adds trumpet work on one track. And just like Favors, Infidel was recorded at Jeff Carpenter's Al Fresco's Place studio in Louisville's Belknap neighborhood.
Infidel is doubtlessly a manifesto of Hurst's politics. In it there's no pray-for-peace folkiness or allegories of tin soldiers. You know where he's coming from. The end of "Y Can't U B Serious" has a speech by George W. Bush that crossfades into a rant by Adolph Hitler at one of his rallies. In "Sun and Sand," the persona Hurst takes on - that of a young soldier fighting in the Middle East - flings a handful of oil into the face of the ones who sent him there. Still, regardless of the anger in the lyrics, the music Hurst uses to present them is full and melodic. His words may reach back to his punk rock days, but the sounds behind him are as direct, clean and clear as his opinions.
"We live in dangerous times, indeed, my friend" Hurst sings in the title track. "It's like a long, slow dance / With blissful ignorance / The kind that borders on obscene." In the manifesto he presents in Beloved Infidel, you know where Bryan Hurst stands. To him these are not times for ignorance or neglect of world events or even the history behind them. But while his manifesto deals with matters of the world, the one Irrational Fear presents in Closer to Daylight deals with matters of the psyche. For them, if you ignore the lessons that are learned from experience, if you continue to damage relationships because of destructive behaviors, if you doubt your own worth, or even if you just act like a jackass to everyone you know, your world will be filled with sorrow and puzzlement.
Rebecca Reed and Lynn Elliott, the core members of Irrational Fear, present their manifesto in a dozen songs on Closer. Joined by bassist Mike Wilson and ubiquitous drummer Billy Bartley (both of whose tracks were recorded earlier and separately from Reed's and Elliot's), these two women have a laid-back, airy sound that borders on being a gentle whisper, the kind that carries dreams, hopes, worries and fears to someone close who wants to hear them.
That overall sound is augmented by the skills brought to it by noted Nashville-based engineer and producer Joe Funderburk, who produced Hank Williams III's latest release Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' and who did post-production for Closer.
But not everything is nice and quiet and slow in the manifesto of Irrational Fear. The tempo picks up and drives home in "The Space Between" and in the airplay-friendly "Benefit of the Doubt," which starts with a squeal of feedback, a growling guitar introduction, then slips easily into gentle pop, where lead vocalist Elliott sings, "You've shown me like no one else ... / The benefit of the doubt I'll keep for me." It is perhaps the one song that best illustrates the Irrational Fear manifesto: Don't let doubt creep into something you feel is certain.
The women of Irrational Fear present their manifesto in Closer to Daylight without being preachy or overstating their case. While their calmer demeanor is a contrast to Hurst's sledgehammer anger, that does not make their message any less important. Underneath both manifestos, however, is a sense of hope for change.
For Hurst, it is political. For Irrational Fear, it is personal.
(For more info, it'swww.bryanhurst.com and www.irrationalfear.biz, respectively.)