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Field of Crows
Artist: Fish
Label: United States Dist:
Length: 11 tracks

Bruce Watson of Big Country has teamed up with Fish. Think of the possibilities of such a collaboration. Both artists' sounds are laced with melancholy, but while the music of Big Country was always far more celebratory, the sound of Fish's music has been grounded in more, shall we say, traditional melancholy. So what will these new Fish songs sound like?

Fish's new album entitled Field of Crows was released just before Christmas 2003 in the UK and on June 22nd, 2004, in the US. It is a simultaneously stirring and contemplative effort that largely succeeds. The band members couldn't be more adept at their respective instruments and their seasoned experience comes through with startling clarity on these eleven new tracks. Joining Bruce Watson (guitars) is his fellow BC cohort Mark Brzezicki (drums) and long time off-and-on members of Fish, including Frank Usher (guitars), Steve Vantsis (bass), and Tony Turrell (keyboards). It's going to be a good one! And taking it track by track, it is.

"The Field": More of a processional than an actual song, this almost-nine-minute opener builds and builds, adding lightly played military-type snare and horns as it goes. It is not entirely successful because it never really gains the proper momentum and lacks that special "oomph" that Fish usually has stored away in buckets. This song is by no means bad, it's just missing that transcendent moment that would have it competing with Fish's quintessential opener "Vigil," the title track of his first solo album Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. A nice effort not without obvious merit as an homage to the fallen soldiers that have given their lives up for us back home. B-

"Moving Targets": The imagery of this track is reminiscent of the Washington D.C./Virginia area shootings of late Summer `03. Not exactly light fare for a tune, but Fish turns in a clever lyric and explains how the shooters have actually become moving targets who won't escape their fates. Catchy chorus and a solid mid-tempo rocker. B

"The Rookie": Another rocker grounded with a recurring keyboard pattern by Mr. Turrell. In a theme that will sneak up time and time again on this album, Fish ponders what is worth pursuing and for what reasons. He sings: "You wanna be the big man, you got big plans, big ambitions you got dreams, So what's the big idea?" He answers: "Take my advice keep it simple, keep it real." This song rocks, the band sounds ace, and the song succeeds. A

"Zoo Class": A bouncy, nasty rocker seemingly about the people who would show up on a Jerry Springer show. Tasty guitar playing by Messrs. Watson and Usher. B+

"The Lost Plot": A keyboard-driven track that features some of the uncertainty lyrically present in "The Rookie." Sonically, this song reminds me of the Raingods With Zippos album, thanks to Tony Turrell's contribution to that album's "Plague of Ghosts" suite. A mellow tune with more great instrumental work from the band. A-

"Old Crow": The theme of uncertainty again. Is Fish feeling like an old crow? "Old crow, time you get some new ideas." Maybe just a new pasture is all the singer needs. The band is in fine form and seems to be having fun on this upbeat, almost jazzy number. B

"Numbers": Probably the heaviest song on the album, lyrically dealing with a person who seems to be trying to hide away from society. This song leaves me ambivalent because I'm not exactly certain what Fish is getting at. The band rocks heavy and furious, however. C

"Exit Wound": From here on out, the album seems to really take a great turn up. This is a classic mournful ballad with great Frank Usher leads and a very sympathetic band performance to enhance the melody and mood of the track. Well done! A sad but well performed Fish torch song. A

"Innocent Party": A blazing, momentous rocker that is thoroughly captivating; get set . . . go! The band is off and running with an almost menacing vocal by Fish on the verses followed by soaring choruses. The band sounds fantastic and it's amazing that no one really outshines anyone else. Everyone just adds the right performance. Features a great end section. A

"Shot the Craw": A unique-sounding tune that has Fish longing for his missing lover. Put together with the final track "Scattering Crows," anyone's heart would break as Fish sings, "I can't dance without you." A+

"Scattering Crows": In a long tradition of great closing tracks, Fish once again finds water in the well. This time, he wonders if he and his lover still have time to work out their problems and get back together. Fish sings, "Everything keeps changing, nothing ever stays the same. Let me run to you through an open field. You'll see me coming. I'll be scattering crows." The crows are seemingly symbolic of the couple's troubles. Brilliant, with a mysterious ending that I won't give away. You'll have to interpret that for yourself. A+

If you are new to Fish, __Field of Crows__ is probably not the best album to start with. It's far too internal lyrically and it might be just too much to handle for a beginner. I'd recommend Fish's first solo album __Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors__ as a starter. It came out in 1989 and is still one of his finest efforts. From there, work forward album by album and Fish's journey will make more sense; that's what it is . . . a journey. I rank this newest effort on a par with Vigil and the 1997 effort Sunsets on Empire. These three are crown achievements in Fish's illustrious career. The music on Field of Crows is tightly played and the seasoned experience of these performers shines through the entire operation. A lesser band would be in awe of how the musicians work off of each other rather than trying to outshine each other. Fish's voice seems to be not quite as strong as in past efforts, but has instead taken on a mellow smoothness that works very well on this mature offering. An overall stellar performance from Fish and band alike. Overall grade: A

Chris Barlow  7/31/2004



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