Annapurna is an album of mantras, epiphanies and wordless contemplations. It manages to be intensely introspective while confiding intimately with the listener as with a friend, sharing a journey of self-discovery.
Gino Brann (also the front man of local groove band Klickitat) here blends technical ability, stylistic eclecticism, and lyrical grace in a beautifully made, remarkably cohesive work. Every track makes you smile in a different way: Sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes humorously, but always warmly.
We begin with a countrified rock declaration of a need to untie the invisible knots that life tends to leave inside us (Leeches). The need for purge is immediate, expressed violently (uncharacteristic to the rest of the album). Where’s the salt? / Where’s the matches? / Gonna burn these bastards down to ashes. The first epiphany comes as one might hear the story of lessons learned at a Buddhist temple told upon return to the Grand Ole Opry (At the Temple).
The album’s title refers to a major section of the Himalayan mountain range in Nepal, where many of the foundation elements (usually guitars) were recorded. The View from Sarangkot employs Indian sitar phrases combined with drop D blues licks while in Those Eyes, West African rhythms are mixed with gospel-ish choirs that Nick Cave might envy. Brann’s reggae (Day 8, No Yeti), funk and jazz explorations (Dog vs. Monkey) seep in but never is the continuity of the overall work compromised. Moreover, the track sequence alternates between vocals and instrumentals throughout, allowing the discoveries of the previous songs to sink in and percolate in the mind, as if to invite the listener to take a moment to think on the material presented.
Brann enlists the supportive talent of friends, each currently active in their own projects on stages across Busan. They are Jim Batcho (percussion, vocals), Mike Edmunds, Anthony Garcia, Michael Laveck, Violet Lea, Melanie Lenau and Kelsey L. Smith (vocals).
The real jewel among the lotus leaves is found in The Enlightened One, before the album’s denouement. Here, Brann’s mastery of songwriting is most vividly realized in the story of how a critical connection at a low point along the spiritual path is made. No matter what you believe / when you’re on top of the world, baby / it’s a miracle just to breathe.
The moment of truth is revealed in the chorus, at which time a sudden hush and thinning of the texture (atmosphere?) has the impact of thunder. Silence, here, becomes an instrument of considerable emotional force. Shortly after, it is explained in the lines I was a man of silence / I was a man of dreams / but only men of violence / they have the loudest screams.
Everything heard here is distilled to its purest essence. The instrumentation and arrangements are uncluttered by anything extraneous: Not a single note in a guitar solo is out of place. Little is added for effect, nothing for flash. Michael Laveck’s (Mica Mountain Works) recording style is warm, intimate, plainly gorgeous.
The employment of instruments is minimal â only the essentials, nothing more or less. Brann’s voice is the perfect vehicle for lyrics so thoughtful and grounded. The tone is fresh and mellow, the tempi sober and measured. The composer becomes the sculptor releasing the form from the block.
The album’s titular track brings it to a close with a cool confidence (reminiscent of James Taylor), expanding into shimmering brilliance, upon vocal treatments (Violet Lea and Kelsey L. Smith) that reveal his classical music education.
Finally, release comes as if coming out of meditation, easing your eyes open to see the world anew. One emerges at the end of this album cleansed, somehow purified and refreshed by the sounds of the last 35 minutes. And as it is with all good art, when we come down from the mountain, we are transformed.
You can check out Annapurna here: ginobrann.bandcamp.com
Photos courtesy of Gino Brann.