BEK-JEAN STEWART & THE SOCIETY FOR THE LOST
Fierce Attachments (bek-jeanstewart.bandcamp.com/album/fierce-attachments)
This is not an album for the feebly interested or the half committed. It is certainly not an album about the feebly interested or the half committed, and these songs burn as fiercely as the characters within. And maybe for longer, given this is an 18-track double album with more staying power than your average British PM.
The once-was-child in We Share The Same Name remembering a father who like her was “born into violence and grief”, understanding how he thought himself misunderstood in his “valley of grief”, even as she remembers “I was scared of your hands … You laid them out/Laid them on me”. The reminiscence of Into Your Open, wagging of school and phoneline pranks and anything that “kept me away from looking myself in the eye”, that breaks down into an adult now “freefalling”. Sky Serenade Me Blind’s guru/travel/city-sceptic who finds greater comfort “where the firewood turns to coals”, who isn’t concerned about some wider approbation, but still remembers, with jazz-time desire, “your skin smooth smooth rough smooth rough smooth”.
For the women centred in every song here, viewed with sympathy and understanding – sometimes to the point of an inexpressible grief, and at other times tensile pride – fierce attachments, as described by Bek-Jean Stewart, include but are not restricted to the romantic ones. However, the emotional underpinnings of romance in its many forms – love, manipulation, desire, wish fulfilment, transference, abject surrender, elevation, loss, anger, acceptance and resistance – are applicable to pretty much every story.
For better or worse, Stewart says, this is how we live our lives, these are the impacts of our decisions and those of people around us: look upon them and weep, and sometimes maybe stand proud. It may well be actually that the album subtitle could be the second track, Human Frailties, which captures a relationship that can only safely exist in the abstract and asks how much would we accept as our bodies pay the price for someone else’s unfettered damage (“There’s 206 bones in your body/How many of those did I break?), but in analogy posits the songwriter in a dilemma themselves.
“How many melodies are left?/Have they are being used up/Have all the words been taken/So nothing new can be written?”
Well, while ever the stories exist, the songs will too, and they need to, as Stewart describes in I Wish I Was Mary Gaitskill, where someone buffeted by an unnamed series of events and now “so out of touch with my feelings” that “I want to get lost inside someone’s eyes for a week/Get fucked up on cocaine and weed” fears they have lost their core and seeks solace in trusted sources of explanation and comfort. “I want to sing like Patty Griffin, bleed a little blood like Bruce Springsteen/Write my story down like Mary Gaitskill.”
Griffin and Springsteen, along with Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier, are the four musical and lyrical corners of Stewart’s songs. Roughhewn at times, but actually carefully structured, these are songs in the key of Americana: the open nature of folk, the search for the poetic in the prosaic of country, and the preparedness to walk on the edge of some kind of grandeur that rumbles within both soul and rock ‘n’ roll.
The rustic simplicity of Love Lies Bleeding, banjo and all, the gracefulness of We Share The Same Name and sophistication of Moonbow it turns out are different sides of the same box.
In Your Brother’s Car, while the drum stays steady and locked down like the lead voice, a backing vocal spirals upward like smoke, and the song’s intimacy always feels a harsh breath away from being blown apart, but is as tenacious as the memory. The apparent wispiness of Fragile Bones Will Break is a misreading, in part because of its lyrics of absence, as the solidity is baked in and expands the further the song goes on a highway journey piloted by a relaxed guitar.
Then there is the escalating pulse of Price Of A Free Soul which incorporates an almost Hair-like moment of hippie joy in between blue sky cruising, lashes of vibrant energy, Texas panhandle guitar and a long, exhilarating list of “women you ought to get to know”, or the album’s closing heart-shaking Song For A, that is pure Griffin in its waves of emotional truth and gut punches within a sadly beautiful, utterly compelling melody.
Too many songs though? Nah, it’s a long album but it doesn’t feel it. And anyway, take it in small doses, like life, and you can have it all. Which is, when you think about it, better than life.
Bek-Jean Stewart & The Society For The Lost will play Never Never Mind, Dorrigo, November 19; Lazybones Lounge, Sydney, November 30; Brass Monkey, Sydney, December 1; Servo Food Truck Port Kembla, December 2; Urunga Originals, December 10.