Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life is Beautiful

"Follow your bliss" only sounds dated to those who don't.

Two of my favorite bliss-followers, Jameson and Laney - the duo also known as Lobo Marino - were celebrating the release of their new album, "We Hear the Ocean," with a show at Big Secret, conveniently just blocks from my house.

If it seems weird to be going to a show at a place that does laser engraving and printing, then clearly you haven't been to shows at some of the places I have, you know convenience store parking lots or a porch with people in pajamas.

But Big Secret made sense because they had been the ones to create laser-etched curly maple and walnut wooden covers for this new vinyl release. Even groovier, it was an opportunity for collaboration with Big Secret's Jason, an old friend of Laney's, and Lobo Marino are all about community.

An unexpected opportunity to learn a new skill set had tied me up for a bit, but I managed to slide into the wide open door of Big Secret in time to catch half of the first song on the album. I guess technically, I missed the intro, too, but I'll just have to live with that.

As many times as I've walked by, this was my first time inside and the high-ceilinged room had an appropriately communal vibe with people - including a new mom and tiny baby encased in a Snugli - sitting on the floor, others standing around the room, a table of food and sangria set out for guests.

Fittingly, barefoot and seated on the floor were the musical guests of honor.

Hanging on the back wall was a foam core cut image of (what else?) a lobo marino. It really couldn't have been much mellower or more inviting.

The beauty of Lobo Marino isn't just how much they seem to enjoy what they do or how gorgeously their voices blend, but the wide-ranging assortment of music-makers and methods they employ: harmonium, jug, mouth harp, ankle bells, foot drumming, you name it. I think it's enough for them if it makes a unique sound and can be managed by two musicians.

Part of what makes these two so satisfying, though, is their songwriting. Not for them the silly love songs.

Instead they write about their aspirations, like the song Laney said was about their house "before we actually found it." She told a story about holding out for a non-normal house, something different and special, and it worked. They eventually found a 200-year old farmhouse in a wooded lot right smack in the city. The song presaged that.

They write about nature and taking care of what we have, about all of us needing to try harder to get along and stop warring. And they talk about how the core of what makes Richmond special is that it's such a collaborative community.

If you close your eyes, it could be the '60s again.

"We Hear the Ocean, Lift Up the Mountain," the title song, began with them both on mouth harps and soon caused a girl to start dancing in a decidedly middle eastern way, the palms of her graceful hands upturned, eyes closed.

We heard how the recording of this record moved at a snail's pace compared to their last albums, something they were unused to. "It took so long recording that I would fall asleep," Laney recalled.

But she also used some of that down time to write "We Hear the Ocean," so she acknowledged that sometimes there's a lesson in things not working out. "That song wouldn't have ended up on the album."

Jameson talked about writing a "process song," one that helped him see that emptiness is also openness, a state of being ready to receive.

Since they began touring together, Lobo Marino has logged mileage all over the world and I can hear how every adventure informs their sound and songwriting. Tonight's show was #172 for the year.

And that's a wonderful thing because they're two here and now types who give plenty of thought to what they out put in the world. They want to make it better. They want to be better brothers and sisters to their brethren on the planet.

In fact, that's the theme of "We Hear the Ocean" and one that bears repeating, assuming you can get people to look up from their cell phones (yes, there were even a few of those types there tonight).

After they finished playing the entire album, Laney reminded everyone to eat all the food and drink because she couldn't take it home. "All I have is a mini-fridge and it's full!" she said of life in the pale blue camper, their digs until they finish work on the farmhouse.

The room quickly became one big party and I mingled, having missed the pre-show socializing.

I was thrilled to hear from an artistic friend that he's finally giving up the restaurant business to freelance and concentrate on all the side projects he's wanted to work on. I told him I wouldn't live any other way.

When I spotted an improv comedian whose work I find not only hilarious but usually brilliantly inspired, I couldn't resist introducing myself. I love telling someone I admire their work.

Toward the end, I found myself talking to Laney about the joys of non-normal work, answering to yourself and how I'd never go back. "Me, neither, now that I found out that this works!" she said with a knowing smile.

Over at the merch table, I found myself in a quandary. The only format for the new record was, well, a record, which came with a bonus cassette tape that gets you four of the new songs remixed by local DJs.

And I'm that dinosaur who still uses CDs.

Reminding Jameson that I have no cell phone or TV, I had to also admit I have no turntable. "Really? That surprises me," he said with a grin and I could see humor coming. "I'd have thought since you didn't have a cell phone or TV, you would still have a turntable. You know, in keeping with the period."

Everyone's a comedian when you're a Luddite.

Walking outside, a guy who'd been at the show said hi and asked me what I'd been writing lately. Although he clearly knew me, I almost didn't recognize him, but we'd met at GWAR Bar one night as I was headed to a late show. I was curious what had brought him to tonight's show since I knew it was invitation-only.

"I was walking by and heard the music," he explained. "It sounded sort of mystical, like almost religious and I couldn't resist coming in to hear more. It's really beautiful music."

He asked if I knew the band, so I gave him the highlights from the seven or eight years I've known these two, but it's really pretty simple.

As far as I can tell from countless conversations and scores of shows, they're just two modern day troubadours following their bliss.

You know, in keeping with another period.

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