The Green Kingdom: The North Wind and the Sun
Lost Tribe Sound

Michael Cottone is the very model of consistency; certainly none of the many releases he's issued under The Green Kingdom alias over the years has been a let-down, and The North Wind and The Sun sounds as strong as any of the others issued by the Michigan native. It shares many qualities with earlier sets, its pastoral-folk style, for one, as well as arrangements in which acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, kalimba, cello, and the like prominently figure. But the new collection does part company with earlier releases in one respect: in response to a production-related pitch by Lost Tribe Sound, Cottone largely set aside his electronic gear to produce the album's thirteen tracks using acoustic instrumentation only. The result is a purer presentation of The Green Kingdom's folk-ambient sound though one not so far removed from his previous releases that it sounds unrelated.

With a distinctly ‘bedroom'-like feel pervading much of it, Cottone's always highly personalized music is rendered even more engaging when it's presented as intimately as it is here, and the emergence of tape hiss in a track or two only adds to the project's appeal. During “The Singing River,” lattices of acoustic guitar picking couple with shakers, thumb piano, and the soft, mellotron-like sound of a wooden flute to conjure the image of a hazy country paradise. Adding to the music's languor, electric guitar textures sometimes seep into the album, cases in point “Unnamed Lands” and “From the Ashes of Industry” where tremolo shadings deepen the allure, as does an occasional synthesizer, such as the one softly murmuring throughout “Aventurine.” The material's at its best during uplifting folk reveries such as “Virescent” and “The Beacon Tree,” especially when the music exudes an aura of joyful affirmation untainted by cynicism.

Interestingly, the recording was originally intended to be to released on cassette, a format choice that wouldn't frankly have been inappropriate given the music's homespun character; the label was wise, however, in deciding to issue it on vinyl so that the music's nuances could be captured in all their glory. Calling The North Wind and The Sun a panacea would be perhaps excessive, but it's certainly capable of soothing the soul and banishing from one's thoughts the kinds of troubling realities that regularly darken our collective days; its nostalgic evocation of carefree summers certainly offers a welcome respite from the latest go-round of political turmoil grinding the spirit down.

August 2017