Cameron Blake – Fear Not
It’s difficult to not love a noble failure. Cameron Blake’s twelve song opus Fear Not doesn’t trifle with a mandate – this isn’t your typical collection of pop songs chronicling the vagaries of love but, instead, aspires to nothing less but an intimate exploration in song about the emotion fear and how it influences human lives. It’s heady stuff for a pop album, even one like this that certainly reaches far beyond the purview of 4//4 rock and roll or formulaic four minute pop songs. Blake confidently delivers the material, however, and despite a small bevy of influences not typically heard in pop songs, it connects with listeners without much difficulty. His musical training is undoubtedly a big part of his talent, it allows him to shape these emotional vibrant songs with a degree of finesse that furthers his ambitions for the collection. His attempt at making a serious artistic statement with this release is wholly successful; it might not prove easy listening for everyone, but there’s no doubt that he’s hit his presumed target of doing something more with the form than ruing a broken heart or wallowing in self-indulgent despair.
The essential question quickly becomes this – can condensed compositions and their accompanying lyrics work as a vehicle for tackling such a vast theme or has Blake bitten off more than he can chew? Blake wastes no time engaging that question. The title song seems to indicate that he’s the rare sort of talent who can utilize traditional elements of song craft in fresh, invigorating ways capable of exploring large themes. “Fear Not” comes from a place of personal experience, both lyrically and how he chooses to musically frame things, but it is speaking to the world as well and the stretch to make this an universal experience enriches the song and album as a whole. One of the other influences informing Fear Not is an Americana strand in the track listing that isn’t pronounced, but nonetheless surfaces a couple of times on the album. “After Sally” is the first of those instances and the album’s second song. The classical overtones in Blake’s music take on an entirely different context here.
There’s a fair amount of the material on Fear Not assuming a smoky, artsy sort of jazz feel and “Fool’s Gold” rates high among those tracks. The lyrics are honed to a razor edge, moreso than even the best songs on Fear Not, and it’s gripping to hear how artfully Blake mines the lexicon of every day speech for eloquent conversational poetry. There’s some fleet fingered bass playing kicking off the song “Queen Bee” and Blake’s predisposition to jazz continues with this track, but there’s an amped up level of urgency coming from the percussion and the arrangement throws a few key surprises in to make this an even more delectable track. “Tiananmen Square” takes Blake and listeners back to a more orchestral pop setting with the emphasis on dynamics making Blake’s narrative gifts stand out even more. No matter the heights his compositions intend to scale, Blake keeps his voice at a reasonable keel throughout and it provides a ballast of sorts to counter the outsized ambitions of some arrangements on Fear Not.
“Moonlight on a String” mixes folk or singer/songwriter influences with a quasi-classical veneer and it deserves mention among the album’s best efforts. The two final high points listeners will find on this studio album are “Wailing Wall” and “Philip Seymour Hoffman” – songs, in a way, linked by common moods, but also different enough to place as unique moments in and of themselves on this release. “Wailing Wall” is a winning mix of substantive lyrics and an absolutely appropriate musical backing while the latter piece shows off a rare height of creativity while “Philip Seymour Hoffman” has an arrangement of rare ingenuity perfectly complements the lyric. Fear Not is one of the best releases this year, mainstream or indie scene, and Cameron Blake’s artistry on this album far outstrips his marvelous debut in terms of richness and range.