We first encountered Great Lakes as bucolic psychedelicists in Athens, Georgia on their Elephant 6-inspired Great Lakes and Distance Between albums (2000/2002), then heard harder urban tones reflecting life in Brooklyn (Diamond Times, 2006) before they explored the great outdoors on Ways of Escape (2010) and finally they put down roots in the country with Wild Vision. The arc is simple but spectacular, mirroring a journey made by Dylan and the Band, and Van Morrison, who grew tired of the city and gravitated to Woodstock, creating their own Cosmic American Music. Wild Vision describes a similar transformation.
Each stage of the Great Lakes story has high points and Wild Vision is no different but the highlight of the album is its country tone. It’s a natural, pastoral Americana that conjures up the Band, Van Morrison and Bobby Charles, apart from the Fleetwood Mac soft rock of ‘I Stay, You Go’. The tone is set by the lyrics of opener ‘Swim The River’: “let’s breathe the purer air and all the old sadness won’t be there”. It’s an invitation to head back to nature and back to a transcendental 70s rock style, guitars soaring, keyboards humming joyously.
Though this is very much Ben Crum’s vision, he’s ably assisted, particularly by Suzanne Nienaber on vocals. ‘Nature is Always True’ is a psychedelic country song, full of mystic allusion to nature’s map that leads to the beyond. Just like the Band, he’s inspired by nature to see through the veil of ‘reality’ and seek what’s really out there. The mystic Americana is then tapped to its full potential on ‘Wild Again’, which is stormy and intense, full of a howling guitar frenzy in the second half. But for all the natural world, the best song ‘Bird Flying’ is the most personal one, a deep-plunging philosophical love song that is all the more affecting for sounding like it was won after many failures and false starts: “I am of this world but she knows of another”.
In our Spotified world of music on tap, the arc of an artist’s musical history is blurred or even lost. What value does a catalogue have when we have the instant-access gratification of a song or album or song that satisfies today’s appetite? Even David Bowie’s Blackstar seems defined purely in terms of the moment of his death and not his life in music. With Great Lakes, submerging yourself in their history makes the impact of the current record even stronger, locating this natural and impulsive pastoral pop in the same topography that makes The Big Pink and its ilk so timeless. If growing older means gaining insight and vision like this, bring on the aging process!