Spencer Lewis from Bethel has become a mainstay of the Vermont music scene. Since the late 1970s he has recorded a slew of albums on cassette and compact disc that have shown his considerable prowess on acoustic guitar and violin. He began as a folk singer-songwriter and he has a fine singing voice, but he expanded his musical gifts and matured into an instrumentalist who creates interesting soundscapes with his guitar and violin compositions.
In 2013 The Times Argus/Rutland Herald acknowledged his long career and many recordings with a special Tammie Award. We said then, âThroughout his recording career he has shown that a musical vision is very important. His is one where guitar and violin merge into an ambience of melody, a confluence of acoustic sounds building from ripples to brooks to rivers ending in oceans of music.
âLewis sometimes sings, sometimes writes lyrics but always keeps his vision, that unique musical universe that inhabits his albums, in sight. Over the years he has worked hard to promote himself, spending innumerable days at fairs and artist shows playing his music. And, this has proven successful. He has sold well over six digits worth of albums.â
Lewis, now in his early 60s, continues to create and record music that reflects his singular vision. We recently received a 2016 album âSouls,â and a newer release âFrom Now to Nowâ his 26th and 27th albums.
âSoulsâ continues Lewisâs exploration of acoustic guitar and violin. This lovely recording, a superb aural cocktail that should end any busy stress-filled day, is Lewis at his honest best.
The 15 tracks, as he relates in liner notes, came from many impromptu recordings as he sat in his house with guitar in hand and recorder in the âonâ position.
These sketches or unrehearsed takes were meant to be ideas for later expansion into fuller recordings. But, upon listening, rerecording in his bigger studio, and rethinking, many of the basic tracks became the underpinning for the overdubbed violin or guitar parts that fill out the album.
If you are familiar with Lewisâs instrumental work then you will want to add âSoulsâ to your collection. Think of it as another volume in an encyclopedic work of music, as yet unfinished.
If you are unfamiliar with the instrumental Lewis but crave music that is aurally appealing without the clutter and clatter that comprises much of what we hear today in streaming music then this is an album to acquire. The music is pleasing, the recording is authentic, and there is not a lot of intellectual effort required to enjoy this music.
âSoulsâ might be the right choice to accompany a hot chocolate late of a winterâs afternoon after a tough day comprehending world and national issues. I can also envision a
cozy living room, warm woodstove aglow, drink in hand, The Times Argus/Rutland Herald opened and âSoulsâ purring from the speakers. Lewisâs approach to composing and recording reveals an artist who has found a stylistic groove that needs little explanation. With âFrom Now To Now,â his 2017 release, we have Lewisâ first studio album of original songs with vocals in 16 years. While he is best known for albums like âSoulâ Lewis has recorded several singersongwriter CDs over the years. Listening to âFrom Now To Nowâ we hear hints of his heroes, Bob Dylan, John Stewart and Eric Anderson, in the delivery and arrangements, if not in the lyrics.
This 10-track, 43-minute album is interspersed with electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and Hammond organ, and reflects Lewisâs view of relationships based on love, loss, redemption, and religiosity. If there one word that categorizes these songs it is, love.
Lewis is not a political writer. He doesnât use blues motifs or venture in world music themes. Stylistically he writes songs that are basic three- chord arrangements. On this album, owing I suppose to the minimal lyrics on several tracks, there is a lot of room for the other musicians, especially Chas Eller on Hammond B3 organ to shine. We hear a lot of Lewisâs acoustic guitar and violin backup mixed into the tracks. The sound overall is folk- country, folk- rock or acoustic progressive folk.
What makes the album especially interesting is the lyric content. Somewhere in the middle of an early listening I found myself thinking that Lewis was giving a sermon on life, both its high points and low, in a church of his own creation. Some of the church inspiration comes from Ellerâs organ backing; the rest comes from the positive language of the lyrics. This isnât evangelical or Christian rock, but it is uplifting in its message, even when the subject is the loss of a friend or a relationship. Lewis isnât trying to be a preacher or shaman, but he does have 60-plus years of life to share and heâs had his share of hard times, hard loves and hard loss. What the tracks reveal is a man who isnât angry. His message is positive, Mother Earth centered and organic.
Perhaps the lyric that best exemplifies Spencer Lewisâs philosophy of life comes in a remembrance of his friend Rosemary from Toronto, herself a performer and poet, who passed away after a long battle with cancer. He writes in the song âIn Our Timeâ:
Finding peace with what is happening now,
We can flow into the one-ness of Tao.
When the transformation comes from within
Thereâs a glow that shines from evâry little thing.
This is essential Spencer Lewis and worthy of many listenings.