Ben Bedford‘s previous four albums have cemented his reputation as an observational songwriter who explores the ways of individuals in American landscapes. This instinct is distilled into 27 minutes on Bedford’s fifth record, The Hermit’s Spyglass. Brew up, wind down, and join Bedford and Darwin the cat at The Hermitage, a farmhouse on the edge of the Illinois prairies.
Ben Bedford: The Hermit’s Spyglass – track-by-track review
Despite the serenity of the title, Morning Rise is not all sweetness and light. The deliberate picking has discordant notes. There’s fire on the horizon, and the early risers “sit inside/together apart.”
Soon, another view of nature flies in. We are invited to observe, and perhaps even envy, Little Falcon‘s simple life and her knowledge of natural rhythms. The guitar work darts and swerves much as she does. Finally, a false ending gives her one last overture.
Another instrumental line leads the way. Larkspur Awakes is simple but certain.
It transpires that Coyotes haunt the field, proving that a rural scene is never as peaceful or silent as we’ve been led to believe. Bedford howls and hums their crying sound.
We’ve made it to five songs in before human intervention: “The kitchen’s alight/the coffee is on.” All the while, the protagonist is still keenly observing the natural world.
Delightfully, The Hermit’s Cat gets his own theme. It has a tight Spanish guitar feel; simultaneously stalking and cosmopolitan.
The Mule and The Horse has more of a flourish, more activity, and more agility than anything so far. It’s clear that the day has begun in earnest.
Moon and March End is a romantic stargazer’s tale; “flaxen stars” light the scene as the protagonist contemplates.
As we should expect by now, Thunderstorm mimics the insistence of rain and the ebbs and flows of a storm.
Morning Conversations properly introduces us to Darwin the cat: “he talks to the birds/maybe he knows some of their words.” Familiar refrains appear. Just as we’ve been to places within nature, contemplating the whats and whys, now we’re thinking like a feline.
Before we know it Darwin is gone and the space is replaced by one last self-explanatory instrumental: Quiet on The Green Hill.
The Hermit’s Spyglass is a sparse but intentional collection of instrumentals and observations. It’s eminently peaceful despite the ceaseless natural activity that’s recognised, shared, and understood. The Hermit’s Spyglass by Ben Bedford is out on March 29, 2019, on Cavalier Recordings.