If Tolkien & Lewis Opened a Coffee Shop in 2015, This Is Probably What They'd Have Playing
A review of Fire and Stone, by The Gray Havens.
It’s well over two years since I reviewed The Gray Havens‘ debut EP, Where Eyes Don’t Go, after discovering them online. The popularity of that record led to an abundance of gigs across America for this husband and wife duo, Dave & Licia Radford, as well as a successful Kickstarter campaign which helped them put together the new album. Now here we are with the arrival of their first-full length piece, Fire and Stone, and it’s a corker.
It’s a breezy acoustic folk sound; quirky, sincere, and yet often playful too, taken to pleasantly surprising the listener with an inventive change of meter or key. From the merry opening bursts of ‘Inheritance’, to the curious resurrection musings of ‘Stone’, it’s beautiful song-craftsmanship. And just when you think a song is merely a pleasing background soundtrack for your daily grind, a lyric will suddenly jump out and pull your heart back in.
Take ‘Sirens’ for example, a powerful account of the allure of temptation:
No trace could I find,
Of any joy the sirens promised.
They had found a way with a lie,
To turn what’s good and should be wanted,
Into what is highest above all desires and loves.
And then comes the passionate refrain, with meaning that’s so tangible it echoes somewhere deep down: “Hold on, hold on, my heart, you’ve tasted joy that’s more than this.”
Similarly, ‘Stole My Fame’ is a clever ode to grace, unpacking the ‘devastating’ impact that grace can have on someone’s ego, managing to get under your skin without you quite noticing the needle:
You stole my fame,
You would not stop until you crucified my name
Named after the final chapter of the final volume of the The Lord of the Rings, it’s no surprise to hear that Dave & Licia are Tolkien fans. It’s evident throughout that they really care about their lyrics and want to sit you down and tell you a story, taking you on adventure as you listen. In fact, it’s almost like the essence of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis has been distilled and re-imagined as folksy pop, or “narrative-folk-pop” as they choose to self-identify (which pretty much fits the bill). As Dave puts it:
“Good, beautiful stories plunge the reader into a fictional world in such a way that when they come out again, they perceive the real world more clearly and with more joy than before. In much the same way, song lyrics—when married to the right melody—can penetrate the heart. Story plays such a huge part in our songs because powerful narratives have been so transforming for us personally.”
This is what TGH do really well – in fact, once or twice my simple mind was playing catch-up to try and work out if I’d definitely ‘got’ the meaning of a particular lyric – but nevertheless it’s powerful stuff. The final track, ‘Far, Far Kingdom’ is an absolute beauty and has become one of my wife Zoe’s fave songs.
They’ve described the album as articulating the “fight for real joy,” and that’s apt because I finished the record with an odd sense of satisfaction from having listened to something musically delightful, but combined with a spiritual eagerness to delight in the God whom their stories describe and allude to.
So if that sounds like your cup of flat white, then get your hands on this record.
Download a free sampler here, or stream it below: