Working Songwriter, Thawind Mills, Tours America & Releases Seventh Album

 

mills-profile

It was three years ago that I moved into a house in south Austin with two inviting and eccentric musicians. The garage was made into a recording studio, the living room was bare – which made room for video shoots or other projects – and the overall feel of the house was “ground zero.” This was a place for creativity and activity. Yet, some things seemed to hold back the owner and singer-songwriter, Thawind Mills. We simply called him “Mills.” He would write a few songs, then he would go back to the grind of laborious jobs. That all came to a tipping point when he decided to sell the house in the summer of 2014, to take his music on the road, and to never look back.

My being a flute player in the house was enough for Thawind Mills to ask me to sit in for a rehearsal or two. I obliged, and soon after he sold the house, I was playing flute on his next album, Halo or Horns (2014). Thawind Mills is a different songwriter, in that he doesn’t really like to name-drop famous artists, and his style is very much eclectic. He does his own thing. While he has released seven studio albums thus far, he has written hundreds of songs over the years.

country

If you check out his Instagram, you will see the many adventures he’s had since parting ways with the 9-5 world. As he last told me, it’s not always easy or fun as it looks. With some hardship, comes adaptation. Along the way, he began to find alternatives to generate revenue aside from music and T-shirts – his own bracelet designs.

bracelets

Here a few of the many bracelets Mills designs.

While on the road, Thawind Mills began to put his latest album together, Delirious Love Symphony (2016).  This work combines charm, frustration, and wit in the telling of love’s trials and challenges. Songs like harmonica-infused “Amazing” and “Still In Love With You” reflect that charm while “Could You Keep It Down” (Catherine Grimes on back-up vocals) and “Jalapeno Rose” show frustration and fascination with the lover’s quirks.

One of the best qualities about Thawind Mills’ music – aside from his strong and versatile voice- is his exceptional guitar playing. He often likes to loop his guitar melodies at shows, and it’s really nice to hear the ideas develop. On the album, this is best heard on “Subterfuge.”

While I did not learn a lot about Thawind Mills’ life during that short time at the house in south Austin, he brushed the topics of religion and his upbringing. These stories are told in “Pray” and “Daddy.” I think the lyric – “I pray that people with power gain more common sense, I pray that people with common sense gain more power” – embodies the ideology of Thawind Mills. While he was my landlord, he had such a free spirit to share. He is not bound to the saturation of Austin nor to any one town in which he tours. Since his journey began, I’ve noticed he’s met so many people, and it really is wonderful to see someone break free from this conventional world.

If you’re looking for an album with a nomadic feel and the sounds of a working musician, have a listen to Delirious Love Symphony.

cd-release

Thawind Mills (left), myself in the middle, and Catherine Grimes (right) at the CD Release for Halo or Horns. November 22, 2014

For more information, you can visit Thawind Mill’s music page here.

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The Deer, On the Essence of the Indomitable Spirit

The Deer (2)

The Dedication page to Stephanie Bledsoe, inside the lyric book for On The Essence…Artwork by Grace Park

This review will have more of a personal connotation, as this will not only be a description of the contents, but a celebration of a person’s life. Each song of this album can intimately speak to you from your first listen, much like the greetings of the late Stephanie Bledsoe. On the Essence of the Indomitable Spirit, the sophomore release by local Austin band, The Deer- is a dedication to Stephanie. She was an artist, a gypsy, a farmer, and an enchanting spirit. She passed away in August 2013, after suffering an accident on her farm in San Marcos, TX. Even if you were a distant or casual acquaintance, each time you had the chance to see her, she would most likely come up to you first and tell you, “you look beautiful.” Upon her passing, I knew immediately that she would inspire The Deer to write about her legacy in the San Marcos community and the impact she had on her friends and loved ones. Stephanie was an activist for horticulture, and showed her dedication by managing and living off her land, at Thigh High Gardens. She began singing back-up vocals for The Deer’s first album, An Argument for Observation in 2013, but became close friends with Grace Park, the lead singer of the band, before she joined.

Stephanie Bledsoe's last Facebook status. Artwork by Grace Park

Stephanie Bledsoe’s last Facebook status. Artwork by Grace Park

The Deer continue their momentum of rich progressions and intricate details as they did in An Argument for Observation (“As Women Go” and “Army Ants” are my favorites off of that one.) I highly suggest listening to On The Essence… with the lyric book that also contains Grace’s artwork, which can be downloaded with purchase of the album, here: https://issuu.com/thedeermusic/docs/booklet/3?e=0

The album opens with 1. “Take Flight,” where the drums and bass give us a kinetic beat before Grace manifests a melody that is gorgeous, yet restless, as it prepares to fly into the unknown atmosphere.  The harmony almost holds her down on the chorus, with its minor scheme, but perhaps it is a fight between moving on and then being tied down to a certain reality. It closes with lovely echoes of the words, “take flight,” with the violin (Dennis Ludiker) and synthesizer (Alan Eckert) carrying the melody to the end. 2. “Careful Whorms, #1 & 2” is a charming and whimsical tune that also treads down a deeper path, perhaps showing the carefree and spiritual relationship with another. It goes from the first section (#1)-having the mantra, “to my surprise” as well as vocal harmonies on a short “OM”-to the next section (#2) where the careful worm embarks on a journey: “I rode a whale/she rode a wind it begins, it begin, it beginned my end…” Grace paints pictures of creatures that slowly crawl or swim and pairs that with the wind and the wheels; things that travel quickly. Toward the end, the two sections collide: “it would take me over, I would follow the water, I’d follow the water, to my surprise…” One of my favorite tracks, 3. “And Like Through The Eye Go I,” just shines with a rich progression, lush timbres in all the instruments, and lyrics that seem to unwind into a beautiful message. It also gives the band an opportunity to jam at the end, to which they did extensively at their Scoot Inn performance on February 27, 2015. 4. “Add Shades of Tiffany” is a dreamy, cutsie canon having images of Tiffany glass, a house, gods, and the sea. I think I heard it for the first time on a rainy day in the car, in which it took me to a serene and still place in my mind. The next two tracks are more of the catchy sing-a-longs, and in the sketchbook they are set against a calming sunset with silhouettes of birds and tree figures. There are little blue faces painted on the tree figures, which reminds me of how Stephanie’s ashes were planted beneath a young oak tree at her memorial. 5. “Rise Up Singing” is like a wooden swing carrying the melody back and forth until Grace jumps off with a powerful cry on “hate to go gentle.” 6. “Farther” is a Texas roots tune with a driving drum beat, perfect vocal harmonies, and a friendly chorus of “ooooooo”s. The third song on the sunset spread in the sketchbook, 7. “Esalen,” does not have such a sunny presence, but more of a pensive quality. The combination of the acoustic guitar melody, the electric guitar drones, and haunting voices create an amazing texture. Again, I applaud the lyrics:

“Wrestled and saved by the wine-colored waves, no amount of danger in my darling, Infinite language in the eyes of cetaceans, safe within the belly of intelligent being, deep in deep end Esalen.”

Wow! Just. Wow. Grace’s seamless voice cascades over colorful words. Even so, every band member of The Deer is so skilled. Jesse Dalton on upright bass goes to town when you see him live. Michael Mcleoud on electric guitar has a keen sense of tone and smooth, melodic ideas. Alan Eckert knows how to work the drum set but also gives us the essence on the percussion instruments. The violinist and/or fiddle players, Dennis Ludiker and Karl Kummerle, set the mood for their respective tracks  with either simple accompaniment or using their technical finesse.

Tracks 8, 9, and 10 seem to be a trio of farm songs. 8. “Little Bluestem,” which is the sister farm to Thigh High Gardens, is an instrumental piece with banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and upright bass. Jesse Dalton wrote the next one, 9. “Farm,” and he sings lead vocals as well. “So I’m moving to the farm,” rings true for Grace, as I learned she had moved to Thigh High when I visited the tree last year. This brings me to the next one, 10. “Thigh High Vignette,” a brief accounting of magical events on Stephanie’s land. What a wondrous place it is indeed, with Stephanie’s yurt resting on the back end of the property. I like to group the next two songs together, 11. “Look Alive” and 12. “A Life Electric.” These two seem to directly address Stephanie-“she was strong, she was private, she would probably survive it”-and “now she is reunited with that which the senses can not observe.” Both also allude to the fact that spirits live on, and we can learn from them.We can take control of our passions, throw away our fears, and exude complete confidence every time.

The album closes with 13. “Windinseaandwhine,” a pleasant piece about the layers and textures of sound, again referencing water and the whistling wind. The layers are depicted with violin duets and upright bass, Jesse’s strong voice on the bottom, and Grace’s soft voice on the top-all against a lilt in the drums and tambourine. I think The Deer have a sound that is so beautifully crafted, that it was rightfully so they would celebrate, mourn, and echo the legacy of a brave soul. Thank you, Stephanie.

Stephanie

The late Stephanie Bledsoe. Photo by Amy Sue Berlin

http://www.thedeer.org

03/09/2015

Submitted for the KOOP Radio Music Library

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