Welcome aboard- let’s treat this bit of artificial paper as a vessel, as I would like to think we are going somewhere.
Let’s get some particulars out of the way first.
Who am I? For the purposes of this blog piece, my name is Noah Fence; not my given name, but one that I have chosen for myself, for my near anonymous portion of the 15 minute spotlight of fame. Beyond that, in real life I am just some Jack from around the block that pulls his socks on after he pulls on his trousers, prefers the words trousers to pants (as “pants” in England is a reference to underwear), and chews vitamin C tablets with the teeth he has left in his head on a daily basis.
Who are you? That one is difficult for me to get correct. I like to assume that you are an engaged and curious individual, with a discerning taste for music and other art forms; as such, hungry for new music and sounds to add to your life experience. If that’s not you, I hope you will both forgive me my error and also stay onboard to the end of this article.
Why are we here? Speaking for myself, I am here to write a review of the new album, The Lost Art Of Wandering, by Raymond Richards. The review as such, having as much to do with the album itself, as it does with my experience with the record. The record reviews I grew up with and learned from having been written by the likes of Lester Bangs; I doubt if I ever seriously considered even for a moment getting out of the way and letting the album speak for itself.
Now, as for you and the reason you are here, there are multiple options I suppose. One, you are a habitual visitor to the Freeform Portland website and regular reader of the blog. Two, you may be casually or personally acquainted with Raymond Richards — and thus curious about a review of your friend. Third, you may well have stumbled upon this review, and/or website, by complete chance, having been pulled forth by the gravity of your own curiosity, your eyes darting from one word to the next and your brain making contextual connections, so that it all makes sense, such as it is.
Well enough of the petty barbery, let’s make a stab at the subject matter.
From what I understand, this is Raymond Richards’ first solo album, but not his first album, no. Looking into his musical history, you can see that he was part of the band, Mojave 3, who released albums for 4AD Records. He also seems to have worked with Lovefingers while in Los Angeles. At some point, he relocated to Portland, Oregon, and has applied his musical experience and multi-instrument talent to production work. I have never met him personally, despite living in the same city and having some friends in common, but what I have been able to uncover about him thus far suggests he would be worth a beer or two and some conversation.
The reason I am able to fill up the event horizon of your internet connected device with all these words is that I have a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland. That show is entitled “It’s a Nice World to Visit.” The show is long running and, one hopes, tasteful and discerning. That is not to say that I know more about music than you might. But I do know what I Like, and I very much like the album, The Lost Art Of Wandering.
I have stated it before, and it bears repeating, music is magic. It seems to come from nowhere and influences our moods and our minds. Also, I believe that recorded music is a contextualized form of time travel. It not only captures the moment at which the recording is made, but also captures the moment at which the listener hears or is affected by the music. Subsequent listens to a piece of music can easily transport the listener to a different time and place, even though by memory alone.
The Lost Art Of Wandering evokes a sense of place, moreso than many records I have heard over the years. There is a real sense of existence in the songs on the record — and as the music fades at the end of each song, a sense of haunting as well. With a minimal amount of instruments, Raymond Richards is able to bring his main instrument, the pedal steel guitar, to the forefront. The manner in which he plays the instrument is spacious, invoking desert landscapes, open land with far-off horizons. The smell of rain on the breeze. The push of wind as you walk against it, your clothes on your body being pulled in the other direction. Listening to the songs on the album, I do not even need to close my eyes to be brought to someplace else. The sounds on the record seem as simple as breathing and just as vital.
I do not often resort to comparison when reviewing a record, as I do not wish to belittle the artist or the album, but I think this time I will make an exception and cite a couple of records that came to mind when I first listened to “The Lost Art Of Wandering.” But only because I think it might be helpful to other listeners, as the pedal steel guitar is not often a lead instrument on an album, and has in the past been used in a gimmicky fashion. The first record I thought of as I surround myself with the work of Raymond Richards was Slider: Ambient Excursions For Pedal Steel Guitar, by Bruce Kaphan, which is an ambient album, nearly a pleasant New Age album of sorts, by a musician who was part of the San Francisco band, American Music Club.
The second record I thought of immediately was Incident At Cima, by Scenic — an album of desert surf music, a rock album with clear influences by Ennio Morricone, and one that invokes a sense of place unlike most other albums.
The songs on The Lost Art Of Wandering are place names, spots on the map, towns or cities you can visit. But with the album on, there may be no need for such time and trouble. Each song clearly brings forth each location, as though you were standing in place yourself. Although, I have to imagine, your experience in each location might be enhanced or graciously altered, should you visit while listening to the tracks from this album.
In closing, let me step up on my platform to say that, in recent years, the music industry has crumbled and is nothing like it once was at its height, the mid-seventies to mid-nineties, and I for one am okay with that. The breakdown of the mechanism of merchandising an art form has allowed some musicians to make albums of rare beauty, for the sake of art itself; case in point, this record by Raymond Richards. An album made from the love of music. An album made with a sense of grace and beauty. An album made with a personal connection to the musician, the sounds at times seeming to stem from what I imagine are a slow ballet of gestures across a series of electrified strings.
Listening to The Lost Art Of Wandering by Raymond Richards reminds me again of something of which I love to be reminded: the magic that is music, the beauty that is music, can change people for the better. One person in a better mood, one smile, is infectious. There is no form of art that changes us and affects us on the levels at which does music. Put the album on, take a deep breath and allow yourself to visit someplace else: a vast space, with horizon lines and a sense of both loneliness and belonging. You are never alone with music.
The Lost Art of Wandering can be found on bandcamp.