Asher Lev: Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less (Thisness Records, 2004)
It’s strange to listen to Asher Lev’s debut EP release, Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less. It’s not strange music, mind you, as the EP contains a charming brand of emotional folk music delivered by a loose collection of musicians headed-up by 20-something year old songsmith, Devin Bustin. It’s strange because, with Bustin being a close personal friend of mine, I am able to hear his voice and read his lyrics with a familiarity that eludes me with most recordings I listen to. Upon hearing Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less, I’m able to appreciate the nuances in Bustin’s lyrics, notice the subtle Bustin-esque guitar strumming patterns, and marvel at the artistic growth of this man who knew when he was learning to play guitar in the first place. As such, it may be a bit difficult for me to be totally objective in this review, but I’ll try, feeling that the inside knowledge I have of Bustin’s character and talent will actually aid me in the reviewing process.
Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less opens with the emphatic acoustic strumming of “All of Canada”, instantly displaying the enthusiasm that Bustin lends towards his project. “All of Canada” is a sweet song of longing, with the displaced first-person character longing for his homeland of Canada. The song features a strong melody with an anthemic chorus that begs to be played on radio, yet is recorded with the quaintness of a lo-fi ethic. Bustin alternates his aggressive strumming with gentle picking while singing, “how do you lose the ground you were born to…”. Bustin then launches into a quirky refrain sung in French, followed by delicately-played guitar parts. All in all, the song conveys a sense of yearning coupled with an expression of adventure…and culminates in being a strong opening track for the EP. “Powerplay” again shows Bustin’s Canadian roots, as the whole concept of the lyrics is based upon hockey imagery. Yet, as hokey as such imagery could potentially be, <b>Bustin</b> successfully orchestrates it with thoughtful lyrics and a tantalizing musical structure. Featuring cello, gently-picked guitars, and subtly-affected vocals, the sound of “Powerplay” is sparse while still conveying a feeling of dreaminess. “Motor City Mud” follows, with Simon and Garfunkel-esque harmonies, an exquisite and varied approach to guitar parts, and an impressive vocal delivery by Bustin. The track is anchored in a smart and catchy melody matched with Bustin’s typically poetic lyrics.
However, even when considering the quality of the musical and lyrical highlights of the previous songs, it is clear that Asher Lev has saved the most effective songs of Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less for the end of the EP. “The Borders, The Lakes” is a stripped-back and touching homage to Bustin’s ill grandmother. Over a simple yet beautiful melody, Bustin sings, “precious woman at my mother’s birth, and beside her at my birth…do not go on a day when I’ve not yet found a way to the room where you lay”. “The Borders, The Lakes” is tenderly and lovingly sung, and anyone who has faced a similar situation of a distant grandparent on their death-bed (as I did mere days before I heard this song) will immediately relate to the lyrics. Following this moving track is “The Great Revival”, which is a stunning tribute to Bustin’s mother. “The Great Revival” is another largely stripped-down song, featuring Bustin’s upfront vocals and fine guitar picking. With some of Bustin’s most personal lyrics, Bustin honours his mother: “Jesus gave his mother to his friend like and answer to the emptiness you feel when heaven ends. And I think you did the opposite for me. You tried to give me Jesus before I knew my need”. The song ends in a gloriously blissful refrain of Bustin’s echoed vocals singing his mother’s name…pure magic, especially given the lo-fi leanings of this recording.
All in all, Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less is an extremely promising debut recording for this unheralded artist. Asher Lev’s songs are intelligently written with a keen sense of musicality and a surprising maturity. Yet, this maturity does not hinder the playfulness that peaks through some of the tracks, showing that while Bustin takes his art seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. One wonders what Asher Lev would be able to accomplish with a bigger budget and more access to musical resources. With passionate lyrics, an understated dexterity in musicianship, and an uncompromising attention to detail, Why the Hand Has Five Fingers – No More, No Less is a pleasing listen…whether or not one is familiar with Bustin as a personal friend.
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