I smiled as I thought of Nicholas Williams, the brainchild of Whetherman, recording Streams and Pastures in a steel bathtub filled with warm water during a Virginia sunset. When I found out the bulk of the album was recorded in Florida, with the mastering being done in sunny Southern California, the only two words running through my head were "nuh" and "uh." Well, reality is harsh, but Whetherman's music isn't. Headed by twenty-something Williams, Streams and Pastures represents a milestone in the Whetherman pathway, as it's the first time Williams enlists a full backing band to help shape his ideas. Now, when single artists decide their creativity cannot be contained within themselves and reach out, there is rarely any middle ground: the results are either a step forward or a step back off into a ravine. Williams, thanks to his song-writing abilities, definitely takes a step forward. The songs are tightly composed but not so taut as to make for arduous listening. Even when the country-tinged music delves into melancholia, the album still retains an overall feeling of warmth. It seems the band was a good idea. Drew Matulich on fiddle, for example, is one of Williams' best assets, notably in a song like "Use of Truth,” where it’s free to hover over lovelorn lyrics. Other instruments such as the mandolin and upright bass are used to great effect.
The album starts with "Finders Keepers" which immediately caught my attention by not only the wonderful exchange between the fiddle and the harmonica but the vocal delivery. William's voice has a warmth to it that just kind of makes you relax when you hear it and forget about your worries. In fact, the whole song gives off that vibe but the vocals are the focal point that really bring it home. One of my favorites on the album was "All We Build" which starts off with an excellent mesh of strings and vocals before it turns into a knee-slapping hoedown that had me clapping right along with the rest of the band. "Weathered Mind" is another song that contains beautiful string work but it's ultimately the lyrics and vocal melody that take the song to greater heights - props to the engineers on this album who did a great job recording the band. Ok so there was one song on here that almost made me shed a tear. "Man of Conviction" starts with a gorgeous melody picked on guitar that brought on a sudden feeling of nostalgia but it wasn't until I heard the first line "No matter where I am, I have a tendency to be forgetful" that caused the visceral reaction of my eyes to water up. The somewhat jazzy "Simple Lives" is an excellent example of how a band comes together to fulfill a man's artistic statement. The upright bass provides a nice backbone as the other strings flourish in and out of existence. Female-male harmonies also carry emotional weight throughout the album, as in "Just for Kicks.” Here is an album that converts a man's musical weaknesses and turns them into something enjoyable. This is an album that is as diverse as it is heartfelt and ultimately succeeds by bringing a variety of talented musicians in a room together with well-crafted songs.
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