Bradford Loomis – Bravery & the Bell
Since emerging a few years ago from the vibrant Northwestern United States music scene, Bradford Loomis has established quite a reputation as a performer blessed with a rare mix of talents. His highly evocative voice, ear for entertaining instrumentation, and songwriting acumen come together with top notch collaborators to make for some of the best Americana we’ve heard in quite some time. His latest seven song collection, Bravery and the Bell, has the personal touches that Loomis has made his stock in trade from the beginning and the poetic flair that distinguishes him from many of his contemporaries. He also exhibits wonderful musical diversity spanning the entirety of the collection and has a sure hand extended across the style that belies his relative youth. Bradford Loomis sounds like a seasoned artist, despite his limited number of releases thus far, and an innate understanding of how music connects with people.
The opener, “Wind & Woe”, gets things off to a rousing start despite its title. He makes excellent use of various instrumental voices in this song – namely slide guitar and Hammond organ. The latter, in particular, brings some unexpected color to the piece and pushes it further towards roots rock territory than any sort of overtly traditional style. His vocal proves up to the task thanks to its whiskey and nicotine soaked gravitas as well as his ability to phrase the words in such a way that it maximizes their impact. “Chasing Ghosts” certainly invokes a haunted feeling thanks to the occasional splashes of reverb laced guitar and Loomis’ hazy vocal full of hard-living, but its patience and careful development are added parts that make the song stand out. The chorus shows just the right amount of muscle and soul.
“In the Time of Great Remembrance” spends most of its time as a muted, poetic invocation of memory, but Loomis’ understanding of how dynamics can enrich a performance turns the song in a much different direction as it nears its conclusion. The music never really veers far from its acoustic base, but Loomis expertly ratchets up the musical intensity with especially impassioned vocals and a spike in the song’s energy. “The Swinging Bell” ramps up the tempo without ever cluttering the arrangement too much and Loomis delivers one of his more zesty singing performances. He matches the arrangement with a melodic and emotive vocal. He takes a compelling 180 degree turn with the next track “Drive You Home” and serves up some first class vocals cut from an entirely different cloth than the earlier tracks. Motown influences coming through in this song are quite believable and no one ever gets the sense that he’s straining to fit this mold. The penultimate track “Though the Days Are Fleeting” bears numerous similarities to “In the Time of Great Remembrance”, but it is a little more pensive than the earlier track while still reaching the same emotional heights in its final moments. “Across the Divide” ends Bravery & the Bell in the same fashion it began – with an accessible, mainstream invocation of his talents. Bradford Loomis’ finesse is unquestionable, but his skill for creating first class musical works ranging across a deceptively wide spectrum makes Bravery & the Bell one of the year’s most rewarding efforts in any genre.