Reviewed by Matthew Cordle
Since their 2013 six-track EP, husband and wife duo Dave and Licia Radford (aka The Gray Havens) have obviously been busy working towards the January 2015 release of this, their first full-length album. Produced by Grammy-winner Mitch Dane and featuring members of Jars Of Clay, The Rhett Walker band and others, Dave and Licia certainly gathered a strong team around them to work with. The instrumentation is mostly acoustic and, with hefty doses of accordion and mandolin and half the songs in a 6/8 meter, they have a somewhat quirky, playful folk-pop sound. This well suits the narrative, storytelling style at the heart of Dave's songwriting. Summarising the overarching message of the album Dave states, "The title 'Fire And Stone' is really a metaphor about distinguishing between what really fuels joy, and what merely pretends to. It's about true joy versus counterfeit joy. A log thrown on a fire will fuel the flame and generate heat by giving itself and being transformed. A stone placed in that same fire will absorb heat and will seem hot to the touch, but it's not actually sustaining anything. It's like a short-lived feeling of happiness, but it's a counterfeit, not a source of true joy, and the stone will eventually contribute to the dying of the fire. 'Fire And Stone' is about that fight for real joy." One of the strongest songs is "Songs In The Night", with its lyrical melodies and the poetic imagery of lines such as "Alone, he was born to be stone that his father would strike and his song in the night sang". "The Stone" begins as a gentle reflection on the women coming back from the tomb to declare "there's none inside the grave"...and then suddenly turns into what is almost a line-dancing stomp to celebrate the breaking of the curse and turning of hearts of stone into flesh. "Sirens" is an emotive lament over falling for the siren-call of temptation and the resulting undelivered promises and lack of joy. The album ends with the gentle "Far Kingdom" which Dave states was inspired by Jonathan Edwards who said, "our view of heaven will always enlarge because our capacities to enjoy and participate in it will always increase." Dave wove that together with CS Lewis' depiction of earthly joy as a longing for Heaven, "an unsatisfied desire, more desirable than any satisfaction." In summary, original songwriting, expert musicianship and great production.
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