Bob Lien – Color of Sky
If there’s nothing new under the sun, Bob Lien didn’t get the memo. His fifteen song album Color of Sky is a wholly unique merger of lightly delivered folk rock and neo-classical conceits. Instruments like cello and piano enhance these songs immeasurably. They bring an added melodic sheen to the material that it wouldn’t otherwise possess and it changes very solid and simply arranged folk songs into vivid, almost theatrically geared performance pieces appealing to both the heart and imagination. The strong production work that characterizes the album, courtesy of Cyrus Rhodes, keeps things visceral, yet intimate – the instrumentation engages the listener in a very physical way while never overplaying its hand. Lien has really hit upon something quite individual with this particular formula and, while the songwriting doesn’t till new ground in regards to subject matter, Lien presents his musical narratives with such unabashed honesty and lack of artifice that you can’t help but think you are hearing something miraculously new.
“Color of Sky” starts things on a very creative note. The blending of lush string arrangements with solid acoustic guitar and a stripped back band sound will immediately grab many listeners. It isn’t challenging, in the sense its abrasive or inaccessible, but many listeners might find themselves momentarily exhilarated by the effortless lift achieved by the music. Part of this is an innate result of Lien’s skill as a songwriting, performer, and arranger, but the production knows how to key into Lien’s sound with unsparing accuracy. “What I Ask to Receive” is another example of the production creating a warm pocket of sound for Lien and his collaborators to inhabit. His touch is light, never pushing too hard against a song aiming to embody humility and gratitude, and the approach pays off in a big way. “Temporary Homes” juxtaposes heavy subject matter against a relatively darkness-free arrangement, but the real highlight is Lien’s lyrical content, delivery, and the even-handed pressure he applies throughout the performance that makes the track a well-rounded piece. The winding dance between cello, drums, and piano on the impressively beautiful “Best of Who We Are” touches a new level of emotiveness that earlier material doesn’t match. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches – Lien reaches a completely different sort of zenith here than before and listeners have been treated to a treasure trove of great music up to this point.
The airy vocal virtues of a track like “Yesterday Came Too Late” are an obvious highlight, but the real appeal of this song lies much more in the quiet, unassuming confidence that guides every second. Lien takes a turn with the traditional piano ballad on “Learn It This Time”, but it isn’t a wallow in self-pity and he can never totally avoid indulging himself with the full-band arrangements and fleshing the song out further with cello work. This endless inventiveness is a hallmark of the album and marks Lien as one of the seemingly effortless songwriters who undoubtedly slave over their material only to release songs that play with such natural joy that they sound sprung full born from the head of Minerva. Well worth your time and cash.
9 out of 10 stars.