Bay Area artist Singing Bear may have grown up in Ohio, but with his conscious style, it comes as no surprise that he has found his audience in California, dense with New Age spirituality. His unabashedly awakened lyrics may prove too far out for some, but given a chance, Singing Bear’s superb musicianship and sensual vocals just may win over new fans and lead to new awakenings. For those already in a similar mindset, his new album Gold is a perfect mix of dance tracks and folk pop.
The title track of Gold quietly shimmers in with pads, acoustic guitar and Singing Bear’s hypnotic voice. Drums and harmony kick in on the line “lift me up” in a wonderful moment of prosody and the song turns danceable. The lyrics advocate reaching for dreams, not allowing anyone to get in the way of his and then promising not to get in anyone else’s way either.
“Believe” keeps the dance vibe going with a funky New Age rap about saying yes, and a soaring melodic chorus about believing and accepting the blessings of day-to-day life. The instrumental solo rocks out with wah-wah electric guitar. “Relax Intuit” begins with a scorching blues harmonica and chronicles the struggles of a seeker’s path, first breaking out of the programmed ideas of the system, and then frustrated with whether or not he is “meditating right”. As Singing Bear continues to find his way, the more he looks, the more he embraces the mystery. The song encourages him to relax, use heart and intuition to guide him through life, because spirit always knows what is for the highest good.
An atmospheric rock intro opens “Again”, which speaks to the hard times of today and the fear of what might come, but asks why be afraid of what we don’t know? The only constant is that everything is going to change again and again. Singing Bear declares he would rather sing out of tune than not sing at all, rather die trying than live a lie and asks us to go deeper into our own hearts. Slowing things down even further, “Beautiful Life” starts with sparse acoustic guitar and pads. Drums, vocal doubling, and harmony on chorus fill out the song to dreamy rock. As the lyrics “It’s a beautiful life, such a beautiful life” repeat, we believe, because Singing Bear acknowledges that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. We all run ourselves in circles and fall down from time to time, but we have each other to remind us to rise up again with gratitude.
The rolling, shuffling, rhythm of “Walking and Dancing” picks up the pace with an infectious dance beat, a head-bobbing bass line and a hot electric guitar solo. Keeping things hot, the sensuous reggae of “Reach Back” with a thick bass line and tight drums, speaks to how we all grow on the same tree, are fruits on the same vine. If we reach back to the moment of creation we all started from the same seed. Smoking horns on the solo section turn the heat up a notch further.
Before burning us up completely, Singing Bear cools it down with “H2O”. The song opens with an American Indian Elder offering a prayer of thanks to water for how it sustains and nourishes all life on the planet. Very atmospheric, watery synth builds below Singing Bear’s almost chant-like continuation of the theme before breaking into a funky love song to the ocean. Following up with the slow, mellow rock of “Earth Song”, Singing Bear claims he didn’t write the song but rather just joined in with what the planet has been singing since the beginning. He elaborates to say we’re all singing Earth’s song whether we know it or not, and because of this there will always be music. Bluesy organ adds an extra layer of soul to the already soulful vocals.
Perhaps wisely, the well crafted track listing of Gold saves the most “out there” songs of the bunch for the end, because by this time you are already a Singing Bear fan, prepared for whatever ride he takes you on. “Molecular Transport” starts out with a red-hot wailing harmonica. A seventies style ska flavored guitar vamps behind a lyrical ride through parallel universes and third eye openings. “Mind Sex”, encouraging mental foreplay, is a super funky throwback to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. An extremely deep voice both harmonizes and adds sexy commentary throughout, while an ethereal synth line floats over the low funk bass, giving further emphasis to the merging of spirituality and sensuality.
With a tight band that effortlessly moves through a variety of dance genres and a clear, confidant, and mesmerizing voice, Singing Bear is sure to continue building a devoted fan base. Having the musical chops to hold his own playing next to someone like Jason Mraz, some may misguidedly counsel Singing Bear to mold his lyrics into something more commercial, but in an age over-stuffed with commerciality, what the world needs is more Singing Bears.
Review by Heather Miller-Rodriguez
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)