Celilo – Bending Mirrors (2009)

FrontCover1It’s possible Celilo were aiming for an anonymous feel to this album – for certainly band name, title and cover art (a shot of bare trees and grey skies, with no photo of the band to be seen) all conspire to give little clue of what awaits inside. If the intention is to persuade you to give it a listen with no preconceptions, let’s hope that strategy works, as this is really something of a hidden gem.

Celilo are from Portland, Oregon. Celilo Falls was the nearby fishing grounds used for generations by Native Americans until flooded by the building of a dam in 1957, and Celilo lament this on the song “Wy-am”. All thirteen songs on the album are written and sung by Sloan Martin. Martin slurs many of his lyrics in a manner reminiscent of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. And in fact, if you had to describe Celilo’s music to someone who hadn’t heard them before, a slightly lighter, countrified version of that band – think Counting Crows with pedal steel – wouldn’t be a bad approximation.

Throughout, the lyrics are poetic and evocative, but invariably indirect. Even with the help of the lyric sheet, you’ll be hard pushed to pin down exactly what some of these songs are about. Certainly they are songs that don’t yield up their meaning on first listen. So, depending on your point of view, you’ll either dismiss them as obscure or look forward to repeated listens to try to tease out further meaning.

But the songs aren’t lyric-heavy or ponderous, thanks to Martin’s gift for melody and the uniformly excellent playing of the band. “Bush Pilot” in many ways encapsulates what the band is all about. The lyrics have a poetic feel, if a little oblique, but by the time they get to the chorus, the lovely melody and swirling pedal steel will undoubtedly capture you. The next track “Piñata” is better still, probably the best on the album. Simple acoustic guitar, just Martin’s voice and a harmony vocal: A busted up piñata lying in the street, Empty of everything that once was sweet, with a delightful melodic hook guaranteed to get stuck in your head. (by backroadsmusic.co.uk)

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The opening song on “Bending Mirrors”, Easter Lily could quite easily have been included in the organised chaos that was Journey Through the Past, Neil Young’s ambitious early 1970s film soundtrack. Initially it has the same sort of jamming immediacy, then settles into a perfectly likeable rock driven anthem with a slight nod towards Dark Side era Pink Floyd. Portland’s Celilo, comprised of Sloan Martin providing lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Damon Dunning and Adam East sharing lead guitar and bass duties, Kipp Crawford on drums, Tucker Jackson with that all important pedal steel and finally David Pulliam on keyboards, together with a handful of guest musicians have come up with a piece of laid back and lyrical Americana that straddles the boundaries between inde rock, psychedelia and country folk.

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At times unavoidably sounding like Neil Young’s kid brothers or occasionally Ryan Adams, Celilo have managed to plough their own furrow, largely due to the writing credentials of former drummer turned frontman Sloan Martin. The themes do vary but the songs are unified by the sensitive arrangements and production prowess of the band and Mike Coykendall (She&Him, Blitzen Trapper and M. Ward) respectively.

If indeed the opening song has the driven rock base of a Young classic, then the bulk of the album settles into almost contemplative ballad mode demonstrating the sensitive side of Martin’s writing such as the achingly confessional love poem Pinata or the soulful Bush Pilot. Martin’s strong point though is in the almost surreal rhetoric he employs in songs such as Little Coquette.

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Personnel:
Kipp Crawford (drums)
Damon Dunning (guitar, bass, background vocals)
Adam East (bass, guitar, background vocals, harmonica)
Tucker Jackson (pedal steel-guitar)

Sloan Martin (vocals, guitar)
Dave Pulliam (keyboards)
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Jasmine Ash (synthesizer on 03.)
Mike Coykendall (guitar on 09.)“
Matt Kendall (Banjo on 02.)
Graham Nystrom (piano on piano on 08.)
Andy Parker (percussion on 03.)
Annalissa Tornfelt (fidle, Background vocals)
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background vocals:
Gaudie Darling – Pia DiSilva

Booklet1
Tracklist:
01  Easter Lily 2.40
02. Wy-Am 4.01
03  Winter Pills 3.43
04  Bush Pilot 3.28
05  Piñata 3.03
06  Cigarette Blues 3.13
07  Donut Queen 3.49
08  Sunken Ships  3.23
09  Sirens Of Metropolis 3.19
10  Pink Sofa 3.26
11  Little Coquette 3.17
12  Clatter Of Hooves  3.43
13  Pleistocene 4.24
All Songs written by Sloan Martin
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