Black Bear Season: Listening to the New Album from Andrew Belle

Last Tuesday DH and I attended a listening party for the new album by Andrew Belle, Black Bear. The event was held at a gem of a restaurant called Ada Street and hosted by Vinyl Me, Please, a neat little music club start-up. We arrived early and sat in the bar enjoying specialty cocktails (non-alcoholic for me, of course) and tasty small plates prior to the event. What a cool venue. It is hidden away in a rather industrial area of the city, west of Goose Island. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t know it was there. This was my first visit (DH had been before for a work event), and I’m already looking forward to going back.

But this isn’t about food (necessarily), it’s about the music. I don’t remember exactly when or how I started listening to Andrew Belle, but it was probably 2-3 years ago, even before we attended the last Ten out of Tenn show in Chicago (a great collection of artists, you should check out all of them). That goes to say, I liked him first! Before all you hipsters ever saw his skinny jeans and swooped shaggy haircut. Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself. I pride myself on liking the kind of music that never really goes mainstream or, if it does, I found it before they did. There was an interesting mix of people attending this event, including Andrew and his posse, and DH was not a little uncomfortable but I think the free beer helped him overcome his discomfort in being surrounded by too-tight pants and buffalo plaids. To be fair, I guess I should say the guests were of all ages and styles, not just the hipster variety.

We sat down at a picnic table in the outdoor area where the party was being held and promptly struck up conversation with the guy and gal sitting across from us (not a couple, just friends). The guy was a fan — he brought his girl/friend along for the show. The gal was, ironically, daughter to two native Croatians and spent her summers there growing up. DH and I enjoyed sharing memories from our recent trip there. Such a small world connection.

By the time they started playing the album over the minute speaks arranged in two far corners of the patio, we were sweating in the 90-degree twilight and most of the attendees were a couple beers deep. The sound system was poor and the tunes difficult to hear. Bummer. I had waited all week to hear the album for the first time, resisting the various links posted on the web for opportunities to pre-listen. I really wanted to be impacted by this first full listen. I did download one song from NoiseTrade, and this only served to feed the excitement. By the end of the night, I had acquired a copy of the album (signed by AB, of course) and a first-hand explanation of the album title.

The theme “black bear” runs through the album and this concept carried special meaning for the artist as he wrote the songs during a time in his faith when he felt especially pursued by God. He was gracious enough to give me this answer when I asked. I didn’t really comprehend the meaning so much until I mentioned it to DH (who is a hunter, and actually hunted black bear last fall during our trip to Montana). He told me that black bears relentlessly and silently stalk their prey prior to making a rush attack, which is almost always fatal. I think Andrew’s metaphor is apt.

This is not to say that God is always silent or withdrawn, but that He is always present although sometimes we are (willfully) ignorant of His presence. He will “stalk” His children, even when they are running in the other direction, just as the shepherd tirelessly seeks a lone, lost sheep to carry it back to the flock (Luke 15:1-7). But what happens when the black bear attacks its prey? Inevitable death and consumption. When God “catches” the lost sinner, a death of self is required, repentance and spiritual renewal. It is not an exact metaphor, to be sure, but the imagery makes sense in my head. And it certainly adds value to the thoughtful lyrics and beautiful music of Belle’s album.

Are you curious enough to listen now? Give it a shot, you can stream the entire album from the Paste magazine website. Enjoy!—black-bear.html

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