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Black Belt Eagle Scout - The Land, The Water, The Sky (Album Review)

Wednesday, 22 February 2023 Written by Craig Howieson

Photo: Nate Lemuel of Darklisted Photography

For the uninitiated, Black Belt Eagle Scout is the musical outlet of Swinomish multi-instrumentalist Katherine Paul. Her Native ancestry has always been an important backdrop to her music, but on what is now her third record for Saddle Creek, these themes take a greater prominence than ever before.

‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ not only documents Paul's physical journey from Portland back to her home in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, it also examines the spiritual and emotional journey that ran in parallel with that expedition north. 

Rediscovering and reconnecting with her roots via the nature that surrounds her, Paul also grapples with her own position in her community and how she, as an artist, can retain her heritage and represent it to the world while staying true to herself. 

Continuing the proud Pacific Northwest tradition of making guitar music that is both relevant and groundbreaking, Paul uses her primary instrument as a textural device as well as allowing it to soar in support of her melodies. 

But the guitars on ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky’ also have a subversive quality. The reverb-tinged swathes of sound make you feel as if you are viewing the world from just below the surface of an expanse of water. Outlines become blurry, but it only adds to the beauty to be found when you emerge and everything snaps back into focus. 

On Blue a two chord pattern builds over the course of three minutes from a gentle stroll through a quiet glade to a bellowing howl from a mountain top. It’s little wonder the project attracted the attention of the Microphones’ Phil Elverum, who sings on the rust-flecked ambient swirl of Salmon Stinta.

Paul is a talented songwriter, but the sheer scale of that talent becomes arrestingly apparent during the album's final act. On Underneath she sings “I know it’s wrong to love everyone but myself / but sometimes I can’t even hold me”, sharing a devastating understanding of her own personal struggle while never falling into despair. And as the track shifts from a hazy strum to J Mascis-level fretboard wizardry she reminds herself and the listener of the redemptive power of sound. 

The penultimate track Spaces is where everything falls into place. Featuring the vocals of both her parents, the track marries Paul's take on alternative rock with her Native legacy. As she and her dad share the track's chorus something genuinely special is achieved, perhaps signalling that she is well on her way to figuring out how her past and present will forge her future. 

Black Belt Eagle Scout Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri February 24 2023 - MANCHESTER Night & Day
Sat February 25 2023 - LONDON Moth Club

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