Albums, Music, The Revue — August 31, 2017 at 5:45 am

Blake Berglund – ‘Realms’ (album premiere)

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© Chris Graham Photo 2016

Making music is tough. Selling music is even tougher, so when you hear of an artist who pounded the streets to sell his CDs door-to-door, you know you’ve found someone with a passion to share their sounds. Blake Berglund is just such an artist, using the opportunity to talk with people about music while bringing in money to move his career forward. The outcome of this extreme entrepreneurialism is Realms, Berglund’s fifth album, which we are delighted to premiere here today.

Describing Realms as “an allegorical concept album about the breadth of human experience, the recognition of God and the awareness of one’s own power”, Berglund delivers alt-country music with a metaphysical twist. As with many an allegorical tale, Berglund takes his protagonist on a journey:

Independent, hard-working, take-no-shit “Pretty Good Guy” seeks answers and soon finds himself slipping, quitting, succumbing to despair, apathy and numbness. The pain is gripping. And it’s winning. Only when the hero opens the door, steps through and releases control that he connects with God and the cosmic centre, finally understanding the power of God and the power of himself. His message is love. His mission, complex. The hero’s journey is now complete.

Opening with gritty guitar, title track “Realms” sets out Berglund’s country stall. There’s no mistaking the steel, but a psychedelic vibe illuminates the final phrases. Influences from Pink Floyd’s “Time” segue into track two, where we’re introduced to “Pretty Good Guy”, who, from the tempo of the tune, enjoys kicking up his heels.

“Moose Mountain” brings all the country imagery you could ever need. From Palomino ponies to life on the trail at sundown, it’s a microcosm of Berglund’s cowboy heritage in rural Saskatchewan, Canada. There’s a journey happening here, which takes a slower turn through “Crooked Old Earth”. Referencing harsher truths: “It’s just a trip straight to the grave from the day of our birth, I wouldn’t wish my enemy to this crooked old earth”, we’re carried to a world of insomnia and depression as “Heat Of The Sun” debates the meaning of it all.

If you’ve any doubt that Berglund knows a good guitar lick when he plays one, the opening bars of “Men My Age” are here to blow them away. From alcohol to pharmaceuticals and beyond, this ode to mid-life crisis is an exploration of tactics to get through a life unfulfilled, before descending into “The Grip”, which includes some eye-wateringly good guitar-work. Time to raise it up a bit. Berglund rocks out country-style with “Jesus In A Backbeat”, suggesting that redemption may be imminent. But not without the reflection of “Interloper”. The Palomino pony is back, but the journey is different “man upon a horse named dream, very few cross these plains and discover what they seek…” The complexity of the song, which barely allows time to draw breath, is poetic in construction and delivery. Drawing in and mesmerizing, this is an incantation to hang onto, right to the final line.

Our western narrative style enjoys – indeed, almost requires – a resolution to the story, so Berglund offers “Realms”, a reprise of the opening track but with greater depth and a sense of homecoming. Adding the bass this time, we’re treated to melodic fullness, warm, satisfying and hopeful for the future.

Realms is an album that needs to be listened to, intently and intentionally, to appreciate the nuances of Berglund’s storytelling. He admits to some pretty impressive influences:

“The crafting of the record was influenced by my favourite authors – C.S. Lewis was a great guide as cosmic Christianity was his jam. I also became fascinated with Joseph Campbell a few years ago and went down that rabbit hole. I’m still down it. I carry his book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ with me in my tour bag. I try not to be too flamboyant about it, but my life mission is simply to achieve master storytelling and be vulnerable in the process.”

This is, however, much more than a neatly written tale set to music. There’s cleverness in the composition. Yes, it’s country, but there’s so much more resting in the folds of the tunes. Magical moments pop into the ears, enough to recall… something… yet teasing in the fleetingness of their presence.

And we have to mention the backing vocals, too. Delicious harmonies bring the sound of siren-song to their tracks, providing a cushion to rest Berglund’s gravelly lead vocals upon.

While metaphorical, Realms is unashamedly autobiographical, as Berglund explains:

“There has always been a tight connection with my artistic idols and their God. Cash, Nelson, Kristofferson, all rooted in a Christian observation but also quite esoteric. The best description of my belief system is spelled out perfectly by Tyler Childers’ new song “Universal Sound” – ‘Realms’ is an album that tells the story of how I got here, spiritually speaking. And told as a Story. I’m a farm kid that grew up boozing and fighting for fun – that’s what we did. That influence in life shapes a guy and that’ll always be with him. Now, I just have a tight relationship with God on top of it all.”

Realms is released on September 1st through Berglund’s own Oceanman Records. Take a listen to the audio below.

Berglund may not need to knock on doors to sell his work any more, so – sorry to say – there’s little chance of him appearing on your doorstep, CD in hand. To get your copy, go here and set aside time to put your feet up, listen, and really take in the music and the story.

There are a few U.S. tour dates listen here, and you’ll probably want to like and follow Blake Berglund to keep up with his plans, on:

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