All Things Bright and Beautiful: Love and Affection (Northern Records, 2003)
It’s not often that a music project combines excellence in songwriting, performance, lyrics, artwork, production, vision, and passion. In addition, there are precious few releases that can live up the the hype of a rabid fanbase who have endured lengthly delays in the release of new music from their favorite artist. However, with the stunning Love and Affection, All Things Bright and Beautiful accomplishes this feat, combining pensive lyrics with inspired music.
All Things Bright and Beautiful is the brainchild of Lee Bozeman, long-time front man of the critically acclaimed rock group Luxury. In striking out on his own with All Things Bright and Beautiful, though, Bozeman endeavoured to experiment with different sounds and songwriting techniques, as well as more intimate lyrics. The result is Love and Affection, a collection of songs tied together with their lyrics of love (human and divine, sincere and misguided), and their post-rock musical texture.
Love and Affection, though a product of the early 21st century, conveys a sense of timelessness to it, whether through the gorgeous female background vocals reminiscent of 1970’s vocal arrangements that grace songs like “A Hapiness” and permeate through the entire recording, the references to ancient Orthodox liturgy (most obvious in the first half of the seething “The Transfiguration Parts I & II”), or the prog-rock production of Andrew Prickett (The Violet Burning, Holly Nelson, The Autumns). Sonically, Prickett shines in his best performance to date as a producer, coating Bozeman’s songs in an eerie vibe that transcends the songwriting (reference OK Computer and Dark Side of the Moon for similarities). For example, by adding a touch of echo on Bozeman‘s singing on opener “The Dead Sea”, Prickett enhances the contemplative narrative. The sound of Love and Affection could perhaps be best described as a combination of 70’s piano-based songwriter ballads with Radioheadesque apocalyptic rock, though even this statement is not entirely accurate.
Joining Bozeman‘s unique voice (and long-time fans of Luxury will notice that Bozeman‘s voice has never sounded more expressive and accomplished) is Prickett on guitar and bass, and highly regarded Frank Lenz on drums. Together with Chris Barron on piano and Holly Nelson, Crystal Barron and Sandy Sooter on background vocals, these musicians put in excellent performances with dexterity, passion, and creativity. As a long-time fan of Frank Lenz, I’m hard-pressed to think of another cd where his drumming is quite as good as it is on Love and Affection (okay, maybe Cush EP), while Prickett fans will find much to be pleased in his subdued yet powerful guitar playing. The background vocals beg to be mentioned again, due to the breathtaking beauty of the arrangements and performances. I’ve yet to hear an independent release incorporate such full and ambitious vocal arrangements as much as Love and Affection does.
However, while the music of Love and Affection is stellar in every way, the real value in this release come in Bozeman‘s intimate lyric and song-writing. Foregoing the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus songwriting formula, Bozeman experiements with different structures of songwriting. Yet, his chorus-less and two-movement songs don’t sound forced or contrived in the name of “originiality”. Instead, the songs flow logically and beautifully, often building to rousing climaxes, such as on “Wedding Feast of the Lamb: First Movement”. The lyrics on Love and Affection are equally as inspiring as the song-writing, if not more so. Balancing themes such as personal and societal struggles with concepts of love, spiritual epiphany, sex, and depression, Bozeman bravely bares his soul. Lines such as “I saw her walking by, in her face I saw the light, then I raped her with my mind, and went home to my loving wife” (“Post-Modern Love”), and I have seen that you have fallen again, down, pulled down, the earth closing over your head, but that won’t do, not for you” (“The Dead Sea”) display Bozeman‘s intimate and poetic expressions. Even with such dark lyrical content, though, Bozeman‘s lyrics convey hope, encouragement, and ultimately, victory.
The artwork on the CD is fantastic, too. The CD jacket interprets each song in the form of vintage books, adding to the timeless quality of the whole project. Designed by James Bozeman (Lee Bozeman‘s fellow Luxury band-mate and brother), the artwork perfectly captures the mood of the music, giving “Love and Affection” integrity as a multi-faceted project.
Indeed, few releases that I’ve come across can come under such scrutiny, and still impress and baffle the listener with its excellence. And, even more, Love and Affection is one of those collections of songs that instill euphoria and even at times transcendence in the listener. Love and Affection is a perfectly-executed triumph of beauty and art, and with its release in late 2003, my job of picking my favorite CD of 2003 just got a whole lot more difficult. Everyone, especially Luxury fans and those looking for rare depth and originality in their CD collection, needs to purchase Love and Affection.
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