The new album from Skye Steele, Up from the Bitterroot is an imaginative, touching and insightful account of the breakdown of the singer-songwriter’s marriage. The record chronicles the numerous different stages of personal turmoil and reflection which the artist went through in the aftermath of his separation from his partner; revealing with stark honesty the mental workings of a man in a state of emotional recovery.
It was written and recorded during a long period of self-imposed isolation amongst the mountains of Montana. Subsequently, the songs on this album often evoke wild images of solitude, anguish and longing; finding their topographical equivalent in the unforgiving landscape in which they were born.
Despite the often introspective feel to this album it actually starts with an extremely up-beat celebration of the collective nature of music making with the song The People Make the Music. This is the only outward-looking track on the album and is possibly a veiled Thank You to all those fans who contributed to the release of Up from the Bitterroot via its Kickstarter account.
From here on the songs begin to tell a very different story. The second track, Hiromitsu & Yuko, uses an earthquake in Japan as a metaphor for the personal destruction caused by the separation which acts the central theme of the album. The emotional force of the story is mirrored in the screeching viola and pounding piano chords which lend this song a bittersweet quality.
The next track No Matter Love, and, indeed, most of the rest of the tracks on this album, has a much more sombre and melancholy tone while still maintaining those enlivening folk rhythms which prevent any of the songs from becoming too morbid or self-pitying.
The ability to blend wistful lyrics with exuberant tunes is the greatest resource of this type of folk music and Skye Steele achieves this balance wonderfully. Steele leads us through a spectrum of conflicting emotions from loneliness and regret in My Mountainside to defeatist acceptance on You Be Yours.
All of the tracks feature a traditional arrangement of folk instruments but used in an experimental fashion which, along with the vocal overdubs and shifting time signatures, places Steele’s album somewhere between Beck’s Sea Change and the psychedelic freak-folk of Devandra Banhart.
This is a musically interesting album which, lyrically, plums emotional depths which most records would not even approach.