Cameron Blake - Fear Not
Residing with his family in the Michigan area, Fear Not represents, in some important respects, a look back on the first quarter of Cameron Blake’s journey through life. Fear is something that he has a close acquaintance with – a near nervous breakdown marked his years in music school and Blake’s willingness to experience life at multiple levels has put him in contact with men and women who experience daily fears about what we normally take for granted. This profound understanding of life and self informs the dozen songs included on his second album Fear Not and there’s an extended array of sounds that goes into making these songs memorable. Cameron Blake might benefit from a music school education, but those academic pursuits never mean his music and lyrical content is staid, studied, and otherwise lifeless. Instead, it helps shape his approach to songs like those found on Fear Not and gives him the grounding to explore large themes like the influence of fear in a near-conceptual fashion. He’s utilized a vast assortment of instruments, as well, for the album and a supporting cast of nearly fifty musicians to help bring this release off.
“Fear Not” stands out for a lot of reasons, but one of the key things distinguishing it for listeners is the vocal melody. Despite his music school training as a violinist, Blake obviously has a keen ear for how to arrange vocals in an interesting way. It helps get a plaintive, yet eloquent, lyric over to any even greater degree and the strings bring another colorful layer to the performance. There are a couple of occasions on Fear Not when a pronounced Americana influence comes through and it’s far from hackneyed and the first is “After Sally”. Instead, the same nuance Blake brings to bear on the other styles casts a long shadow here and makes the tracks stand out for their low key artistry. One of the best tracks on the release “The Only Diamond” has a strong musical pedigree backed up with the most dramatic chorus payoff on Fear Not and, certainly, one of its finest story lyrics. There’s some jazz overtones that come through over the course of the album’s track listing but few of them embody them more clearly than the song “Queen Bee”. This song is a little weaker lyrically, but it’s one of the more interesting musical arrangements and gets off to a fine start.
“Tiananmen Square” is a song that should serve as a glaring example of Blake’s range as a songwriter. He has the rare gift for taking such a pivotal historical event, immortalized in the picture of a lone figure facing down a military tank, and making it speak to personal history as well as the global. This song is the most crystallized vision of orchestral styled popular song he offers the audience on Fear Not. The album’s next flirtation with an Americana/alt-country sort of sound comes with the song “Old Red Barn”, but it’s another hybrid in the end when Blake brings unexpected touches like horns into play. “Wailing Wall” foregoes any drumming in favor of a wafting musical accompaniment that some people might not think, initially, is enough to sustain the song, but it does so spectacularly. “Philip Seymour Hoffman” is another wonderful song, coming late on the album, but sparkling with another inventive vocal melody and backing that mix the now familiar style in a different way. He shifts the mood again on the album’s penultimate tune “Sandtown” has its musical dynamics arranged in a fashion we normally associate with rock songs and transitions dramatically from a restrained opening into a maelstrom of sound during the song’s middle and into the second half. It settles once again before concluding. Cameron Blake’s Fear Not is a beautifully rendered musical work with obvious care going into each of its dozen songs. It’s hard to fathom where he might go from here, but rarely has a work seemingly meant so much to its creator – the sincerity is evident in every note.