Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Handful Of Luvin - Life In Between


Seattle.  According to Bobby Sherman “the bluest skies you’ve ever see are in Seattle.”  It is the city from which sprang late-1980’s grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Okay, they were great bands, but, what has Seattle done for us lately?  Can’t really say grunge has survived or evolved since the late 1990’s. So what is the new Seattle sound

Handful Of Luvin.  Founded in 2002 and in Seattle since 2005, Handful Of Luvin has crafted a unique sound.  Part folk, part Celtic, part classical, all alternative rock - the band mixes the guitar and vocals of singer David John Wellnitz; the violin, viola and keyboards of Andrew Joslyn; the bass, banjo and background vocals of Patrick Files; and the drums and percussion of Michael Knight.

Who do they sound like?  Their publicity package places their sound with groups like the Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Wilco.  It also categorizes the music as “Roots Rocks [sic], Folk, Celtic, Jam, Americana.” You can hear some elements of these bands and genres on this, their third album, “Life In Between,” but, Handful Of Luvin’s sound is unique to Handful Of Luvin.  It has the lilt of Celtic music, but it is American.  It is cerebral.  It is different.

Even their album is unusual in today’s “one hit song download at a time” culture.  There are few “concept albums” being produced today. The sum as greater than its constituent parts album is slowly becoming a lost art.  There are almost no more “Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “The Wall” or “Days Of Future Passed” -type albums being made.  The focus today is on the song as the ultimate expression of music - not the album. Album sales have steadilly dwindled along with sales of all types of CDs. The internet has made the single song download for $.99 the new standard.  Many artists don’t even attempt to produce an album.  Instead EP’s have become all the rage.  Handful Of Luvin bucks the trend,  “Life In Between” is a modern take on the concept album.

The opening track, “Born Lucky,” is a catchy, plucky, string-based alternative rocker that asks that how long one should should keep pursuing their passion when it has yet to bring the results one seeks.  Then comes an upbeat bluegrass/folk/rock tune, “Breadcrumbs,” about fading relationships and the need  for the help of a friend to achieve one’s goals. The album moves on to“Kickdrum” a rather odd shuffle.  The violin is made to sound like an Native American reed flute. The lyrics are an homage to the power of rhythm and music.

A folk-picked guitar ballad, “Washington,” speaks from the point of view of a prisoner who can’t concentrate, is easily distracted, and can’t find any sense in his predicament.  Then, Handful Of Luvin’ releases an angry epistle about the state of the American political psyche, “This Man.”  Here’s just the first verse:

Built on a dead economy
Security found on our own bribery
Don’t get me wrong this is our accident
We side with the familiar – not the popular president


This man, with his foot in the sand
Puts a gun in my hand
Take the slip from the mail
It’s a media power facist nail


Middle America, so flat and so free
Tell me what does our, does our president mean
Is this our mothers and our fathers dream
That their freedom, has turned the color green?


I said, take your hammer construct a world
This is your people and children
This Man is our own disappointment.


Whatever happened to the protest song?  It used to be found in music like Country Joe MacDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” and The Animals’ “Sky Pilot”.  Here it is with an intellectual bent.  Following this political protest song Handful Of Luvin presents an audio clip of a lecture by the late British Philosopher Alan Watts.  Watts discusses the philosophy of living which the band backs with an instrumental piece called “The Pilgrimage (Into Chaos).” Watts explains in his lecture that our system of schooling robs us of everything in life by expectation of a reward at the end that never comes. Watts’ presentation runs into a bluegrass blues “There’s No Right There’s No Wrong” that serves almost as a counterpoint to Watts’ lecture.

David John Wellnitz wrote and performs the next track, “Lazy Men,” as a solo.  The song is reminiscent of the folk work of artists such as Tom Paxton and Tim Hardin.  The lyrics muse about our inaction over what others decide is in our best interests. The song “Treaty,”  a bluegrass rocker, is next.  It questions whether a partner in a relationship has changed to fulfill their own agenda while the questioner insists he has remained the same. After “Treaty” is “Glass Ceiling” a song in which a father tells his son to not try, yet, remain humble because the “glass ceiling” will keep him from knowing the honest true.  The son is told to ‘disrupt the norm but realize money rules.”

When Wellnitz sings “Bomb, Bomb” it is a clear song of protest over the way government treats complicated problems.  Like Rodney King asking “Why can’t we all just get along?”, Wellnitz calls upon us to love everyone and everything as he fronts a slowly building crescendo of drums and violin.  The traditional Irish melody “Harry Met Rona” follows in order to display the band’s instrumental virtuosity. The album ends with “Fingers,” a instrumental built around another Alan Watts lecture. This lecture is about prediction and its effect on people - of ultimately knowing everything will eventually fall apart and that having such knowledge is a basis for anxiety in the here and now.

Handful Of Luvin’s sound contains at least one element from the 1980’s Seattle grunge scene - angst-filled lyrics addressing social alienation, apathy, confinement, and a desire for freedom.  Mix it with guitar, bass, drums, violin and viola and you have a truly different American sound,

“Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild
Full of hopes and full of fears
Full of laughter, full of tears
Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle
In Seattle.”

- Old School


Buy here: Life In Between



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