Second generation a welcome addition

Published March 1, 2004

Steve Bell’s daughter Sarah joins him on Sons & Daughters album.

Both change and constancy have marked the life and work of Manitoba-based musician Steve Bell. In his teens, he was honing his skills as a world-class guitar picker. In his twenties, he was a member of the folk pop trio Elias, Schritt and Bell. In his thirties, he was a stay-at-home dad before finding his niche as a musician.

Bell has spent the last 15 years honing those skills and refining that niche with spectacular results. A two-time Juno Award winner, he has released 10 albums and sold nearly 200,000 units worldwide. He straddles two musical idioms — Christian music by  virtue of lyrical gifts that are unique and folk/pop/roots secular music with a signature, evocative tenor voice, a great knack for a timeless hook, and those early guitar-picking skills now fully developed.

Never have the intertwining of change and constancy been more apparent than on the baker’s dozen tracks that make up his new album Sons & Daughters.

The big change is the high profile of Bell ‘s now-adult daughter Sarah, who earns co-credit status on this album after cameoing on the Juno Award-winning album Simple Songs.

Sarah does lead vocals on four tracks, and her pure, unadorned soprano ? a clarion call that recalls Susan Aglukark ? is especially effective as a harmony counterpoint to Steve’s tenor.

There are other changes too ? a rhumba feel to Everything Lies, a 3/4 shuffle beat in Getting Ready For Glory, and an overall jazzier sound in much of the music.

“Sonically, Sons & Daughters has a moodier, jazzier feel than I initially anticipated,” Bell said in December as the album was launched.

“The musicians who contributed gave spectacular performances and helped fashion the album in a direction that has surprised and delighted me.”

Collaborators include jazz pianist Mike Janzen, double bassist Gilles Fournier, and percussionist Alex Acuna.

While there is change, there is also constancy in Steve Bell himself. He has a unique ability to paraphrase Scripture in a way that transcends boundaries and barriers. This time around, the showcase piece of this sort is Psalm 116.

Meanwhile, his textbook, tasty acoustic guitar picking and licks are the undercore of the construction of most songs and the execution of all of them.

This is the case with his originals, but it is even evident on the covers. For instance, when Sarah sings the nugget I’ll Fly Away, Steve tweaks with the familiar progression to give the song new life, and his picking veers between jazz and bluegrass.

“Lyrically, there is the wacky disparity between the mystical poetry of St. Francis of Assisi and the light-hearted retro optimism of Paul Simon’s Feelin’ Groovy ? but it all works for me,” said Bell.

“And the title, Sons & Daughters, was picked in celebration of the fact that the focus of Sarah’s and my relationship is rightly changing from father / daughter to the mutuality of sons and daughters on a common journey.”

This is a journey with wonderful side trips and consistent artistic vision and growth. It will be showcased in a national tour this spring.


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