Bill & Kate Isles: Still Beneath the Stars and Moon
Some of you may have noticed that Bill and Kate Isles took the win for “Best Album” in the Reader’s Best of the Northland 2011 survey. Of course we made sure to grab a copy of the album to review it.
Bill Isles played his first show of original music after a 25 year hiatus 12 years ago this February. It was an interesting decision to go that long without playing and to reemerge and make music his life’s work. Not only did he become well known in the area after his comeback, Bill and his wife, Kate, have become recognized throughout the nation’s folk and country scene.
“Still Beneath the Stars and Moon” is undeniably a laid back folk album that features a few seasoned guest artists who were mostly recorded using a minimal amount of gear, “our gear is very portable, I can carry it all, except stands, in two backpacks,” stated Bill Isles.
The CD features artist such as Canadian two-time champion fiddler, April Verch. Bill Isles met Verch in a hotel hallway following one of her performances in Montreal. Later that year, Bill again met Verch at the Kent State Folk Festival in Ohio. She expressed interest in recording with the couple and they later laid down her tracks a few months later in the “basement of an factory-turned-art-studio-space.” Verch is featured on the majority of the songs on this album and there really isn’t any lack of sound quality, especially considering the circumstances that they were recorded under.
Many of the other artists featured on the album were recorded in unorthodox places such as hotel rooms and saunas turned sound booth with musicians like Banjo player and vocalist, Emily Pinkerton; singer/songwriter and classical guitar player, Michael Johnson; piano player, Laura Hall; Les Hazelton and Gordy Johnson take on bass duties and Jerry Siptroth does drums and percussion for the album. All of the artists are very experienced and it’s fairly impressive that Bill and Kate got such a strong line up to take the time out to participate on this album.
The album starts uptempo with the track “Love is Meant to Be.” Much of what this album is all about is displayed right from the start. Solid hooks and songwriting plus Bill and Kate’s vocals drives the album from start to finish. This song, as well as the majority of the tracks on the album have Verch’s fiddle on them that ranges from playful and light hearted to sentimental and soft.
There are several side notes in the liner about the background of some of the songs. The second track, “Little Blue,” was originally inspired by a river in southern Nebraska of the same name. The song is written by Kate who came up with the melody for the song while she was sitting in front of a painting that was made by her mother of the river. Certain lyrics are pulled from a poem by her sister, Leona, and the poem, “Farm Wife,” by John Hanlon. This track is fairly minimalist and just features Kate softly plucking on the guitar and her vocals, as well as Verch’s fiddle.
I won’t straight up say that this is a gospel album, but there are a fair amount of biblical and Christian references here and there throughout it. “Though I haven’t read the Bible in a long time, I used to read it a lot. I found deep layers of meaning and revelation in the stories.