Matrimony’s “The Storm and The Eye”

“’The Eye and The Storm’” invades your personal space–sometimes delicately tapping you on the shoulder, sometimes pulling the rug out from under your feet.” -HE

Holly Etchison
matrimony the storm and the eye

out of 10

The Storm and The Eye
July 31, 2010

Matrimony: the high sea for which no compass has yet been invented. -Heinrich Heine

James and Ashlee Brown are married, and they’re singing about it. And playing the fool out of their instruments. And writing some unforgettable songs, songs you can live in, songs that seem sometimes to have been released like a butterfly fresh from its cocooned haven, sometimes like a bird set aflame by the burning bush itself.

I was pretty much sold at the first note and line when Ashlee’s Innocence Mission-meets-Kum-by-yah-around-a-campire voice announced “You conquered me when you let me be,” a sentiment to which commitment phobes the world over can cling. The first track “Last Love” is a happy, rollicking kind of grass roots homage to a love that’s gone right; true love is plucked from fairy tales and plunked smack dab into real life. Marriage does not seem half as “mission: impossible” with lines like

You’re my first love

you’re my last love

though I’m young I’ll never

outgrow my love for you.

James takes a turn on “Flee or Fight” with shades of early Simon and Garfunkel (I am always a fan of woah-woah-woah’s), singing forlornly of a lost relationship. Then, mid-song, the sun breaks through the clouds on the platform where you‘ve been waiting, the train suddenly arrives and June and Johnny are beckoning you to get on as a banjo and hammer dulcimer pick up the pace. Interesting lyricism, declarations of freedom, and contentment in the journey are your travel guides:

I’m on the road less traveled by

I feel at home on the path unknown.

But you have not pegged this band yet: the song “More” sails into the sound waves with a kind of banjoed sixties-pop feel. Relatable and unpretentious, you are found following the admonition of Ashlee’s transcendent voice, “Hold your head up high don’t you tell us lies, when more, all you really want is more, to get you through the night”.

The title track “The Storm and The Eye” sufficiently fulfills the notion of a place of calm in the midst of turbulence: interesting choral singing, clapping and staccato Waterboys-esque “We will not be lovers” violin contrast moments of still voice. Again, understanding lines like “to be weak is to be human/ to be humble is to gain” leap out and grab the conscience.

In keeping, James is back on the sort of narrative/confessional, “One last dance.” Cupid’s arrows seem pointed in another direction-the lover of our souls.

“Master take me in for I am sore

honestly I can tell you I’ve been running from my fears…

I have turned my back on hopeless romance

I have conjured up one last dance.

Ashlee successfully “aahhs” the ship into shore, a drumbeat marches you off the wandering bark.

The clincher for this listening affair, and what things seem to have been building toward, lies in the last track “Who Is Your God,” whose intensity won’t let you be. The hammer dulcimer pounds into your senses an urgency that the lyrics define:

Who is your god? Who has he become?

Might and spirit are at war/ the battle is not by the sword.

A stunning refrain set to piano in the key of otherworldly is the crown on the entire project. Ashlee sings from the depths to the heights-

Fire all over you

If you choose to know again

to know the truth

Fire all over you.

As an a cappella chorus echoes the finish, I am thinking of the rarity of finding songs that help alter your reality, that seem to be goodness from the inside out. Matrimony’s “The Eye and The Storm” invades your personal space–sometimes delicately tapping you on the shoulder, sometimes pulling the rug out from under your feet. This partnership seems divine indeed, its vows sung holy, its promises fulfilled.

–Holly Etchison, August 9, 2010