Seth Bernard has always had multi-hyphenates following the designation of a musician. His titles go beyond just songwriter and guitarist. He’s also a storyteller, a community organizer, a political activist, a festival coordinator, a label head, a non-profit founder, a father, and just a general connector of creatives across the state and beyond. This means that there has always been a lot to talk about with each successive release, but his musical output has contained multitudes.
Variety of Sounds in Latest Album by Seth Bernard
Bernard’s latest is titled My Heart is My Home and it’s his 12th album as a solo artist. (There have, of course, been several other credits through collaborations alongside said solo releases). He first started writing, recording, and releasing music 20 years ago. Ever since he’s been threading together an intricate quilt to create a musical mosaic. He starts from acoustic folk and connects to the edges of twangy Americana, roots-rock, and ambient experimentalism informed by a sensibility for pop choruses. There are odes and waltzes, there are sound collages and spoken word samples, there are instrumentals and there are adrenaline-boosting ballads.
And each year, his albums have morphed and augmented into more and more nuance. Here they’ve all become part of a contained galaxy of sentiments, a uniquely spiritual sort of vibe onto itself, where banjos align with synthesizers and a vulnerable honesty and heartfelt candor always prevail. Also, each year, he brings in a diverse cast of artists from genres anyone else would consider to be incongruous to “folk,” particularly hip-hop.
But somewhere, along with spearheading the annual Earthwork Harvest Gathering and spearheading arts-driven nonprofit work with Title Track and the Clean Water Campaign, he’s been able to release a new album of original songs every single year for seven consecutive years, including a four-part series of albums titled (in variations) as Eggtones — which particularly showcases Seth Bernard at his most adventurous in terms of style, arrangement, and genre-smashing.
Seth Bernard’s My Heart is My Home
And that brings us to My Heart is My Home, which we can’t conventionally deem as being a return to “form,” but it does predominantly settle into the unhurried tempos and rich tones of folk ballads and a spirit-rousing Americana-rock. Bernard has truly tried it all, but the lyrical themes have remained the same. Hopefulness. Resiliency. Reverence. Family. Community. Empathy. Nurturing the human soul; restoration of mother nature and encouraging words that always let the light in. The music is pure serotonin — something to massage our weary hearts, and the lyrics are the food for thought. It’s something to help us see the bigger picture.
We’ve all just spent the last 15 months indoors, disconnected, anxious, finding it difficult to keep this sense of dread at a distance. Enter My Heart is My Home, where each song is a variation on an achievable transcendence, our innate fortitude, and the very important work of checking in with ourselves.
“Crystalline Pools” is a sweet and simple song where a resplendent piano matches the melodic phrasing of Bernard’s guitar. His words extoll the fortifications of this “home,” your “heart,” and how it is an engine that can carry you through your entire journey of existence. “Bending With The Wind” brings in a sublime string section with some entrancing but subtle guitar pedal effects. The lyrics find a compelling metaphor for life’s labors and unpredictability as being akin to winding rivers and the arc of tree branches in a gale wind. “The Time Has Come” kicks up the tempo and brings in a chest-thumping drum beat and a more guttural electric guitar’s restrained growls. This pulls the focus away from the self and giving us a loud, cathartic reminder that there is a huge but fragile world out there, our terrestrial home, and it needs our attention and support.
There are two stellar cameos on this album, from hip-hop artist Amber Hasan and cellist/vocalist Jordan Hamilton. “All This Time,” which features Hasan, doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that “on this journey, we are all solo travelers.” We are reminded that our ending, our return to the dust, represents much more than the ceasing of our heartbeat. Rather, it’s an extinguishing of opportunities to contribute, to work, to give, to love. Our chances to accomplish something meaningful for others are finite — being present and moving through this world with compassion and gratitude instills a realization that every day should be utilized. “Rangin’,” which features Hamilton, evokes a sense of blues-rock with a serious groove, shakes us loose from stagnation to remind us that dark clouds muster — and dark clouds are inevitable — but we’re never stuck under them, we just have to keep moving. Even still, some of the biggest, darkest clouds will have a silver lining if we look for them.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
This brings us to the end of this album review. Yes, the musical aspects and arrangements were appreciated, but if you’ve made it this far, then you’ve no doubt noticed that this piece has done more to dissect the ideas expressed and describe the album’s overarching vibe. Seth Bernard, along with the musicians and engineers he’s worked with, creates a composite of tones and melodies that are cumulatively uplifting. There is a lightness to the music, yes — but there is always a heaviness to Bernard’s words, his ideas.
Here’s what’s different this time, at least to my ears. Bernard’s words and ideas have always come from a narrator that sounds like an organizer, someone keen on spurring the listener onward to get involved, to think bigger, to reverse the harms that greed and apathy have wrought upon the earth and upon other people. This time, though, that narrator is exceedingly more existential. Self-reflective. The album ends with a poignant, pared-back ode titled “When They Speak Of Me.” The quiet thunder of the album’s biggest theme finally clasps: life isn’t a game or a competition, but it is a struggle. The important thing is not to be remembered for glory or gain, but for our efforts and our intentions.
The album gives you lots of tender tones and indelible melodies. But more than anything it gives you a lot to think about.