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BEEing HUMAN
By Mark Bruland
Label: Appley Ever After Music
Released 5/8/2012
BEEing HUMAN tracks
1. BEEing Human
2. Suite Honey Bee
3. OMS Child
4. Eclaire
5. Elk and Little G
6. No Matter What
7. An Afternoon With Steve
8. Richard's Horn
9. Pictures From Wheels
10. A Cool Breeze for Louise
11. My Laughing Heart
12. Tom Parker's Wind Chimes
13. The Cheyenne Rose
14. Alexander's Grove
15. Blue Eyed Steel
16. Natylee's Bench
17. Vicki's Lessons
18. Marking Time
BEEing HUMAN
There are a myriad of life stories belonging to musicians in the new Age/ambient/contemporary instrumental genres, but Mark Bruland's is one of the more colorful and interesting tales. Bruland gave up a career in the corporate end of the food industry and, with his family, bought a farm in Vernon County, Wisconsin. They now live and work on the organic farm which is just south of La Crosse, raising hens (for eggs), pigs, chickens and turkeys (for meat), apples, raspberries, asparagus and, most recently, bees, which help improve the pollination of the raspberries and apples. To me, that sounds exhausting enough (the farm covers 46 acres). How Bruland finds the time and energy to compose and record music is just one of those mysteries of life, I suppose.

This is the artist's third CD. I had previously reviewed Wisconsin Dawn, which was a solid effort but left room for improvement. I'm happy to state that BEEing Human displays a new level of polish, professionalism and quality from Bruland as well as showcasing a goodly amount of musical variety. If there is a unifying "theme" present, it's that album is filled with a simple, unpretentious, homespun charm complete devoid of artifice, faux sentimentality, or maudlin melodrama. Much of the music evokes a rural, pastoral feel–the excitement of going to town for a Saturday night's festivities, the cheer and warmth of friends gathered on the porch on a hot summer day downing some cold beverages, the unexpected joy of watching one's children grow up exploring life on a farm, or simply observing the "small" wonders of nature that too often are missed by those too consumed by life to experience them.

From a stylistic standpoint, Bruland covers multiple musical territories: jazz, orchestral (think Copland), folk, pop, a touch of ambient and new age, all with varying degrees of success. While in a scant few instances, the quality of some of the sampled instruments may slightly undercut the piece's overall impact, this is of almost no concern when weighed against the many merits of the album in its entirety. Overall, as I previously stated, Bruland has vastly improved his instrumentation, production and performance.

With 18 tracks on BEEing Human, I don't have the space to delve into each one in detail. Each song, though, has its specific inspiration/beginnings (as recounted in the liner notes) in people, places, things, and events in Mark Bruland's life, which makes the recording a treasured, personal effort on the part of the artist. The title track opens the CD with a slow paced but engaging piano melody accented by a solo horn accompaniment and orchestral strings. The piece is firmly rooted in an "Americana" mood, as are some other selections on the album. Suite Honey Bee once again features piano on the lead with string embellishments, but here the mood is delicate and restrained, hewing closer to the work of "new age" romanticists such as Lanz, Spielberg and Ciani. In stark contrast, OMS Child (which is about Bruland’s daughter, Chloe) flits about playfully with a carnival-like pipe organ (later joined by trumpet) carrying the lead and a rhythm that brings to mind (well, to my mind at least) a vision of pirouetting farm animals (think Fantasia's elephant and hippo ballet). Eclaire inexplicably melds a somber church hymn-like cadence and melody with slinky licks on jazz guitar. The juxtaposition works, but don't ask me how! The first "ambient" piece on the CD is No Matter What with synth washes flowing under twinkling tones while some kind of sampled horn (soprano sax?) hovers lazily over both other elements. Acoustic guitar leads the way on An Afternoon with Steve and here the folk influence is pronounced, despite the presence of both soprano sax and what I believe is an oboe. Jazzy piano, trap kit drums, and guitar take center stage on A Cool Breeze for Louise and the track does indeed carry itself with an air of breeziness. The title of Tom Parker's Wind Chimes sums up that cut's appeal nicely, as layers of twinkling tones, chimes, and bells coalesce in pools of quasi-ambience (synth textures and strings which accompany the assorted tones flesh out the randomness of the titular "chimes"). The CD’s concluding piece, Marking Time, closes out BEEing Human in plaintive, melancholic fashion. It compares somewhat to the "tragic beauty" of some of Tim Story's works, such as Beguiled. Bruland goes solo on piano on the piece and I would like to see him explore more of this style in the future as he appears to have a natural affinity for this motif.

There are lots more tracks not yet mentioned on this charming, unassuming recording, most of them following in one or more of the footsteps already mentioned. The variety of music on BEEing Human makes it difficult to pigeonhole. New age music fans might be put off by some of its folksy charm and whimsy, while the ambient and "new age" elements (as well as the abundance of electronic keyboards) might find disfavor among rural folk music lovers. By covering so many musical bases, Bruland has certainly displayed his versatility (and composing and performing talent), but hopefully the lack of stylistic/genre cohesion will not serve as a detriment to sales because the CD deserves to be heard and appreciated. After all, variety is the spice of life, both on the farm and everywhere else as well.
Rating: Good +   Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/12/2012
 
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