Album Review: Seth Bernard – Let Love Light The Way

. July 8, 2020.

In times of weariness and disenchantment, the songs of Seth Bernard could reliably prove to be restorative. Healing and maintenance of the soul, as well as positive mental health, are varyingly dominant themes in his multifaceted mixtures of neo-Americana and indie-folk. Let Love Light The Way is Bernard’s fifth full-length album in just four years. He balanced this output of songs with responsibilities as a partner in parenthood, along with his efforts as a facilitator of activism and outreach through Earthwork Music, focusing on fortifying bonds of community and underscoring sustainable practices that preserve the environment.

The word effortless comes to mind for more than the obvious reasons. This northwestern-Michigander can meld together intense emotions with intensive songcraft inside of such a short time period. His ability to release these albums amid his other projects would suggest that it all just comes easy to him.  It almost also seems like music is more of a meditation practice for him by now. He has consistently drawn upon and even extolled the power of music; working to demonstrate that it can be integrated into benevolent and philanthropic works, as well as refocusing work that we do upon ourselves. With this poignant collection of textured, yet pared down folk ballads, he has an entry that vividly describes the holistic qualities and figurative sanctuaries that can be offered even inside of “One Song…” Just one song. Sometimes, all it takes is one song.

Sometimes, all it takes is unflinching candor, a purposeful tenderness, and a demonstration of vulnerability, woven into a composite of guitar phrasings that feel invigorating and calming at the same time, sweetened with melodies sung in a soothingly whispery warble. Having been involved in activism for more than 20 years, along with being raised on the noble principles of sustainability and equity, it’s not surprising that his vocals as well as his words can crash with a conviction sufficient enough to cure your cynicism — if not temporarily curtail it. But what it comes down to is if your ears, your heart, and your mind feel in need of some eloquent positivity right now, you should seek out this album.  

Bernard sets his subtly vigorous acoustic guitar strums to a variety of steady walking tempos, enriched by the grinning hum of an organ, or the shimmering quiver of a pedal steel. Whereas his previous four albums, each part of a thematic cycle went on to explore a variety of genres, including hip-hop, hard-rock, and spoken-word. These tunes are all dulcet-toned acoustic folk ballads, gliding, breathing and easing their way in and out in not much more than three-minutes apiece. Each entry feels like it locates and expands upon that ineffable undercurrent of tranquility that comes right around dusk after a loud and bustling day. The word meditative keeps returning because each song, in a way, feels like a deep catching of one’s breath.

There will definitely be times where Bernard is talking about something others would consider “heavy,” or “out there,” or even maybe “mystic.” For some, he might be digging in too intensely toward designedly analytic exercises that look at where we are in our present moment — for some listeners, this will not be escapism. But it comes back to positivity and also resolve. Bernard is a singer that would humbly offer these words as guiding encouragement. Even if it’s just a resolution to keep waking up, keep greeting the day, and steeling yourself to walk the lonesome valley by yourself. This song, even while it is quiet and meditative, is delicately propulsive — it is full with implorations for forward movement! If you are stuck and need to move forward, then let love light the way.

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