Guest post by Christian Robert Shockley:
Stubborn Fool is the third album from Forthright Records, and the first from Brother Oliver, a band made up of Andrew and Stephen Oliver. The brothers have played together for the past five years or so, and Brother Oliver is the realization of several years of searching for an identity that fits the music they want to make.
Two notes to start: First, Ricky Altizer designed the album cover. And that’s worth mentioning because it’s spectacular. Ricky has designed several covers for Forthright Records, but this is his best so far. Second, I don’t typically review albums. And, in fact, you shouldn’t even view this as a review. It’s more of a pre-listening experience, a tutorial on how to listen.
Stubborn Fool is an album made for self-reflection. It’s the most holistic offering from Andrew Oliver and company yet. The album is full of raw and often devotionally charged lyrics that make helpful introspection possible. At times the album feels like a modern rendition of the Psalms, complete with instrumental tracks for Selah-moments of rest.
The album’s main theme is the understanding that inner turmoil is a constant part of, but not a deathblow to, all of life. The brothers deconstruct the spiritual self—usually with surgical precision, but at times with a sledgehammer.
I hear three sections in the album. The first section sets the stage, describing the internal tension that every person feels at one time or another. This tension sits out in the open, seen clearly in the titles of tracks two and three, ‘Coffee and a Cigarette’ and ‘Can You Feel the Dissonance?’
With the fourth track—the title track—the listener arrives at the first point of crisis. The tension boiling in the first three songs—the same tension that was almost enjoyable in ‘Coffee and a Cigarette’—bubbles over in very clear, aggressive language. It’s one of those sledgehammer moments.
“This old man’s a stubborn fool.
He never kept his cool.
Why was he invited?
Oh, but he sure does look delighted.”
And the track ends with the blow: “You will first know pain.”
‘Headwater’ allows for a much-needed moment of relief and release. It’s the listener’s first Selah moment.
The albums second part (tracks six and seven) is a cry of frustrated acceptance—the tension inside each person exists and it’s not going away anytime soon. The lyrics here can at times sound like truisms, especially in the track ‘What Will Be Will Be.’ But these lyrics support the overall purpose of the album: to be a road map for an all-to-familiar struggle.
And often in the midst of struggle the keenest weapon is the commonest phrase. Pain blinds us to even the most evident truth, so if simple phrases packed with wisdom can roll easily from the tongue, maybe there’s a better chance that we’ll remember what it’s like to win a fight.
After another small pause for release, ‘This Creature Inside Me’ leads the charge toward truth and resolution. In this section especially we see Andrew’s ability to paint with words. His images are captivating and the truth is crisp.
When the listener finally makes it to the final track, ‘Let that Old River Run’—a song reminiscent of revivalist hymns, but with better theology—it’s clear that the first eleven tracks have been preparation, a kind of a warm-up, a hardy running start toward a true masterpiece.
This last track commands great attentive power from the listener. Not because the song isn’t engaging, but because after it engages you, it drags you to the depths of all the truth you’ve only glimpsed in the first eleven tracks. But the attentive power the song requires is the same power that each song before it has taught. The song condenses the struggle in powerful but simple language:
“To run is not the answer To stay is not the goal.”
Here the listener is called to a final point of decision. The pain that was promised at the end of the title track is finally described, but it doesn’t appear as expected. The pain is not the wound from some great battle; rather, the pain comes from the seeming passivity of our own salvation.
The Olivers join great poets before them and call the listener to the most difficult of tasks: to wait for restoration.
Milton: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Eliot: “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.”
The river washes us. We wait.
By the end of the last track it’s clear that Brother Oliver is not making music for a mass audience. And I mean that in the best possible way. Their artistic vision is clear. Their philosophical standing is sure. They make the listener feel and comprehend, as romantic-rationalists should. The album is whole. It’s not made to be background noise. It’s made to be lived.
You can sample the album tomorrow, October 16, here. But if you’d like to own the album for yourself (and help Brother Oliver make more fantastic music), you can purchase the album on iTunes.