2023 / Fall Forward Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
When I reviewed Ben Cosgrove's 2021 album, The Trouble With Wilderness, I was immediately captivated by his unique musical voice. I loved reviewing the album and then did an in-depth interview with him. When I heard that Ben had a new album, I jumped at the chance to review it, too. Titled Bearings, Ben calls it "landscape-inspired instrumental folk piano." Although it is a piano album, that only partially describes it. Ben recorded on two different pianos - a felted Yamaha U3 upright and an 1891 Steinway Model A; he also plays accordion, ukulele, bass, banjo, an assortment of keyboards and synths, couch pillow(!!!), drum throne, a CD case, tabletop, envelope, hand claps and field recordings! Harris Paseltiner plays cello on two tracks; Paul Kinsman plays saxes, clarinets and flute on one; and Dan Cardinal plays cymbal scrapes on one. When we did our interview for MainlyPiano.com, Ben had performed in 48 states. For this album, he traveled to and performed in Hawaii, so there is now only one state left: Delaware!
In the liner notes of the album, Ben says: "I’ve always been a bit obsessed with motion. It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m usually somehow every type of restless at once: fidgeting excitedly while talking to someone feels directly related to the joy I take in walking all day around a city, or in driving a thousand miles to, say, play a show for a handful of people in a barn. It’s been a weird stroke of luck that this aspect of my personality lends itself so well to the work of being a traveling musician who writes specifically about geography: I often feel that I better understand and feel more at home in places the more I depart from and return to them, appreciating a new angle, new light, or new context each time I make my way across a landscape. I make sense of the world by moving around."
Bearings begins with "Aerial," a delicate and very beautiful piece played on the felted upright piano. Either not all of the strings are felted or this and several other pieces were recorded in layers. There is also quite a bit of reverb that gives the music a mysterious quality, as does the cello. It's a wonderful start and lets you know immediately that this a unique kind of piano music! "Weather Map" begins slowly, building to a feeling of rapid, swirling motion. I love the title for "The Museum of Everyday Life," apparently named for a place in rural Vermont. The lively rhythm contrasts beautifully with the simple, spare melody and paints an earthy picture of open spaces and gentle breezes. The percussion "instrument" in this one is a couch pillow! In "Slope," the felted and unfelted pianos contrast in a dreamy landscape that includes cello and field recordings. Like its title, "Landscape Through Movement" is more abstract, but is always more than interesting with its contrasting sounds and rhythms. The most dramatic piece on the album is "Volcano." It begins with rolling broken chords in the lower end of the piano, gradually building in tempo and complexity. The deep bass chords are powerful, giving way to the quieter, more tranquil melody and then gradually pulling out the stops. I can easily imagine this behind a very climatic scene in a movie! "1922" is a charming and light-hearted arrangement of a folk song by Charlie Parr. I couldn't figure out the title for "Whales of Southern Ohio," but then I saw that some of the field recordings were done in a rail yard in Cincinnati. Makes sense now! The album closes with the hypnotic "Depth of Field," with its series of graceful broken chords, shimmering reverb and other soothing effects.
Bearings isn't exactly a mainstream piano recording, but I really love Ben Cosgrove's originality, creativity and musicianship. I also really love the album! It's available from Ben's website (CD, vinyl or digital), Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes, and streaming sites including Spotify.
October 8, 2023