The coronavirus pandemic, and our response to it, have revealed some tears in the fabric of our society.
Passionate rhetoric about the “sanctity of life” has been revealed as hypocritical and empty. We have discovered the dangers of far too many people spending too much time cooped up in unhealthy boxes and too little time experiencing our environment’s perhaps fleeting wonders.
Suddenly, something as mundane-sounding as the “supply chain” is on everyone’s lips, as the realization hits that perhaps sourcing so much of our daily requirements from far-flung places is a bad plan.
For Garrett and Siiri Soucy, however, who record and perform as Mr. & Mrs. Garrett Soucy, these truths have long been self-evident. Across the last two decades, as artists have been encouraged to avoid politics and say little that is controversial in order to amass the largest possible audience, they have staunchly created music with depth and purpose, music that challenges our understanding of the world and our personal philosophy.
“We had a couple people over the years offer to help us get to the next level,” Garrett said from his home in the Midcoast where he runs herd over 11 children, teaches at the classical Mirus school, and is pastor at Christ the King. “One of the sticking points was always being told we need to pick a lane, either go into the Christian music market or stop being so Jesus-haunted. But, obviously, we didn’t take them up on their offer.”
No, the Soucys are much too nuanced for that.
On their latest, “From the River to the Ends of the Earth,” they explore the very depths of humanity, in ways that are likely to make you uncomfortable if you are unfamiliar with engaging in introspection and perhaps make you examine your faith should you label yourself as Christian. While they have in the past been more fiery, rippled with more energy, in efforts as Tree by Leaf, they are here sublime, a quiet presence that demands serious engagement.
“When I look back,” Soucy said, “I see myself as the most arrogant person I’ve ever met. Now I’m more … assured of the foundation under me and I’m less agitated about it.”
“Less agitated” is an apt description. Though there is no shame in being proud of songs like “Rupert Sheldrake’s Favorite Girl” and “Regardless of the Cost” – songs that are among the best ever written in Maine – it is true that when you listen to this new work there is a self-assuredness that seems to transfer to the listener.
Part of that is the songwriting, which comes from a place of self-exploration and understanding. And some of it is the production, which comes from the efforts of Roy Davis and Bernie Nye, who have helped focus Mr. & Mrs. Garrett Soucy’s efforts.
Davis is among Maine’s best songwriters but has recently opened Tusk Audio, the studio where Nye produced this record. It’s clear the collaboration the two of them so successfully mined in The Coloradas extends to those recording with them.
“Kids’ Table” is a revelation. Alex Oakes’ accordion swells into the open, drifting between the channels, before we are greeted by Garrett’s trademark cadence, deftly enunciating with a vocal scoop that pulls at your soul’s marrow. “Everybody thinks that/ They go to the big city,” he offers, “Take away all their problems/ Man, I’ve been to New York and/ I’ve still got ‘em.”
Handclaps suffice for percussion, a warm electric guitar ekes out rippling melody above chunked acoustic chords, and Siiri backs verses that demand increasing reflection. What is it to get what everyone thinks you should want? What happens when getting what you want doesn’t make you happy?
“The Apostle Paul says,” – and Garrett is for sure the sort of guy who can pull quotes from both scripture and philosophical texts at will – “‘I found the secret. Godliness with contentment is actually wealth.’ That’s the wealth that people should be seeking,” Soucy said. “I’m learning that lesson over and over.”
We hear that exploration in the rickety banjo of “What’s Hiding in the There,” where “going out west ain’t gonna solve my problem,” like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its classical guitar and ageless lilt. And we hear it in the quiet of “No American Savior,” where Garrett is singing right beside your ear, percussion like a hand on a guitar body: “Don’t be jaded, like we were taught to be … I’m gonna pray for my president/ I’m gonna raise my babies/ I’m gonna love my neighbor/ You can call me crazy.”
What radical ideas, indeed.
Best of all, though, is that there is never a hint of demagoguery. Always, there is a humility, a sense of wonder, a sense the Soucys are still seeking the truth.
“Cut out my black tongue if I err in what I say,” they sing in duet on the quiet “Two Sisters,” an electric guitar arcing through the silence. I’d say they’re in no danger there.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Myles Bullen and Billy Woods, “Ordinary Magic” — Bullen, in collaborations and elsewhere, is getting increasingly spoken-word, less playful, and more cutting: “Self-esteem surrounded by selfish dreams.” Woods here is an aggressive compliment, finishing a short song with twisted distortion.
• Sole, DJ Pain, Unwoman, “Lightbringer” — Oh my. The cello hits, the opening vocal line, Sole’s inquiry: “How’s a boot on your neck feel?” This is straight fire, as catchy as anything Sole’s done. The dynamics here are particularly exciting, with a building tension that Sole always manages to set on fire.
• Sophie Elizabeth, “Sleep on the Floor” — Yet another young vocal talent to emerge from Portland, in the model of Genevieve Stokes, Elizabeth’s eight-song debut is piano-based and full of powerful emotional delivery. “I gave up the things that make me feel whole,” she aches, and it’s hard not to feel for her.
• Laurie Jones, “Good Man” — Showing you don’t have to be 17 to drop a single with emotional power, Jones here releases a slow-burning rock piece, “truth could hurt you/ And so will I.” Clocking in at just 2:20, it leaves you wanting more.
• Dancer, “Monsters” — A bit like Portland’s answer to Hozier, this is some powerful stuff, with big, building bass drum and low-end vocals that provide a weighty anchor. When the chorus ramp-up finally hits? Watch out.
— Sam Pfeifle