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Meditation and Trance: Bill Bulinski and Birch Book

Budd Kopman By

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There are many streams, rivulets and eddies in the world of music and one of them, which could be called meditative or trance folk music, is represented in different ways by the two releases reviewed below.

Bill Bulinski
Bare Naked Guitar
Spiritwood Music
2006

One of the first things you might notice in the notes to Bare Naked Guitar is that the Spiritwood studio is wind and solar powered, as they practice what they preach. Many of their projects are used to support environmental and wilderness causes.

Guitarist Bill Bulinski is a member of two bands in the Spiritwood fold, the Boundary Water Boys and Kristi Morris' Northern Comfort. The former plays Celtic/bluegrass/swing music and the latter is of the country/bluegrass/traditional/gospel type. Bulinski's own band, The Greaseballs, play surf rock music, so you can see he is quite eclectic in his taste.

A solo album, Bare Naked Guitar is a collection of twenty tunes composed by Bulinski that emerge from a Celtic/classical fusion. Each track is short, around two minutes, and so the album's mood changes frequently, while staying mostly within a meditative vibe. The guitar is recorded quite closely, but is crystal clear: full, deep bass, along with fingers sliding on the wound strings, and fingernails plucking and scratching the strings.

Bulinski will never be confused with a stellar bluegrass or country fingerpicker, but he gets around smoothly. His compositions are meant to soothe and induce a meditative feeling. This is achieved by using a lot of open strings along with simple phrases that are repeated over oscillating bass notes.

The record goes by quickly enough, but recedes easily into the background. But that is partly what is desired. If you want to relax and let some music unwind you, Bare Naked Guitar might do the trick.

Birch Book
Fortune & Folly
Helmet Room Recordings
2006

Birch Book's leader, Jon Michael B'eirth (aka B'ee), makes some the instruments used on Fortune and Folly, such as lyre-guitar and leaf cittern. Taking up the troubadour/trouvere tradition, he has traveled across the country singing and playing. His earlier album, In Gowan Ring, has been described as wyrd, psychedelic or avant folk music, and the current release has a bit of that feeling too. The music is a very pleasant mix of atmospheres—evoking the Renaissance, and maybe The Lord of the Rings and King Arthur too—mixed with a roots folk sensuality, along with some clear allusions to player/songwriters like Leonard Cohen.

Layered under and over a few of the tunes are echoed background vocals and a kind of electronic wind. The two "Birch Sap" tracks clearly belong to the trance genre, while "Zephyr Through Willows" casts a mythic spell—as does "Diaspora," with its huge Moody Blues/Pink Floyd sound.

This is an enjoyably hypnotic album, and one in which it is quite easy to get lost—an effect for which I was unprepared. Imagine, if you can, a Neil Young tune, with its encircling minor/major feints transplanted to medieval Europe and overlayed with modern day electronics and overdubs. Such deceptive simplicity is seductive.

Visit Bill Bulinksi and Birch Book on the web.


Tracks and Personnel

Bare Naked Guitar

Tracks: Wings; Pale Rain; Why; Over Sir John's Hill; An Image From A Past Life; Walking Through The Lubbercrust; Snowsnakes; Summerwoman; Dissolve It And Fade Away; The Sailor's Tale; Thanatos; Swirled Leaves; Rocking Horse Sound; Playing In The Aether; Hungarian Malady; The Dancing Perishes; There's An Island; The Truant Boys; The Artful Dodger; The Shape Of Age.

Personnel: Bill Bulinski: acoustic steel string guitar.

Fortune & Folly

Tracks: Birch Sap; New Song; Whisper In The Pine; Young Souls; New Joy; Diaspora; The Wandering Boy; Zephyr Through Willows; The Trip Goes On; The Carnival Is Empty; Birch Sap.

Personnel: Jon Michael B'eirth: guitar, cittern, piano, recorder, xylophone, sundry percussion, jew's harp, folk harp, harmonica; Seth Eames: Telecaster electric guitar; Annabel Lee: viola; Moss & Victoria: vocal chorus.

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