REVIEW: Almanac No. 1 by Giants & Pilgrims

by Guest Blogger June 10, 2014

by Chris Hess

There are echoes all around us. Some we hear and some we can’t . They are spoken in conversation and silent prayer. Sometimes, it seems they hit a wall and fall to the ground. 

Sometimes they get legs. We stand where we’re grounded for a time or a season, anchored. The echoes passing above and by and possibly through us. Most of these echoes are not ours, but somehow we’re privy to the creation of words sent out into the universe by others. Like catching sight of some astral thing propelling through the sky, looking around to see if anyone else saw it. We hear it with our silent ears.

Every now and then, we’re following the trails of a couple of these threads, and we look up just in time to see them fly into each other. From the collision something of clarity and imagination emerges. They inform each other. We look around again to see if anyone else is witness. Before we know it the anchor’s up and we’re moving along the trail of this newness, whether we like it or not.

At first pass, Almanac No. 1 by Giants & Pilgrims (a collection of creators loosely organized by Tim & Betony Coons, with Tim as the musician) is an interesting listen. The majority of Coons’ albums to this point have been conceptually driven - The Deadly Sins & The Beatitudes is all in the title, 2010's Frailty explores the contrast of mortality when held up against the greatest joys in life, and Potomac (2012) surveys the landscape of American spirituality in movements of “cry, freedom, desert, and promised land.” With each recording and as seasons came and went, the alternative-folk voice Coons was honing matured and with that his songwriting grew more accessible.

Almanac again carries the concept in its name. The songs are the most cohesive and listener-accessible collection to date...with solid, finely textured production by Dave Wilton of St. Ida’s (and A Boy & His Kite and Loud Harp). At second or third pass, it is again an interesting listen. The song instrumentation is steady in its identity and not afraid to be unpredictable. Deeply poetic lyrics resonate with the listener - but with this listener, at least, unsure why. What’s an almanac anyway? There is the Farmer’s variety in the grocery store checkout stands. But that can hardly be the source material for an album, being one part of a three-part collective art effort that is “rooted in the seasons and presents provision and navigation for the fields ahead.”

Then a couple echoes flew across my sky and found each other.

A good friend has a book being published in the near future. Over the course of a couple years, I’ve caught bits and pieces concerning what the book is about, though it never quite landed in my brain. I knew I wanted to read it, but did not know why. Then it appeared for pre-order on an internet retailer:

A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life: “Other than a Bible and perhaps a few schoolbooks and sermons, almanacs were the only printed items most Americans owned before 1820. Purchased annually, the almanac was a calendar and astrologically-based medical handbook surrounded by poetry, essays, anecdotes, and a variety of practical information.”

Art surrounding the forecast. Stories to envelope what will be the current state of things. Directions and plain-talk to get you down the road. Clarity. Imagination.

The Almanac project is a big undertaking for the Giants & Pilgrims folks: a monthly publication/zine/almanac of creativity and information, a painting series, and an album. Knowing the context of big undertakings guides them and keeps them true. Listening to what’s around around us provides context. Paying attention to the seasons and allowing the echoes of those who have already passed through to lend us a good word.

Outside of being a really, really fine album, it is in this way that Almanac No. 1 most excels. The songs are written from the perspective of witness to, counsel for, and the journey of family and life. Terror and victory. The questioning and recognition of the divine. Longing. Busyness. Ambiguity. Heredity. Surprise. Strength. The album is a tribute to and reminder of the intense the power of collection. Or, as Coons sings as the Almanac No. 1 closes:

“You and I share a heart since mine gave up.”


Buy Almanac No. 1 here Subscribe to Almanac here Pre-order A Divinity For All Persuasions here

"SonHusbandFatherWhiskeyCoffeeMusicSweaters." A stream-of-consciousness compound word describing Chris Hess and what he enjoys and what he enjoys being. Chris also enjoys being the executive director of Everyday Joe's, a non-profit volunteer-powered coffee house, concert venue, and community gathering place that loves you to bits. He has been published very few places.


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