Brian Thomas
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It is my desire is to write a review that will do justice to Brian Thomas’s superb and touching folk song, ‘The Forsaken Merman.’ I’m afraid that this will not be possible, but not through want of trying.
Without meaning to be fulsome I have simply never encountered a more beautiful folk song. The song is tasteful, textured and even heart-rending. Seldom can one use the word ‘epic’ to apply to any artifact of modern musical invention. Even here, in actual truth, the word is misspent. Let’s say that it is a lyrical masterpiece, in the poetic sense of the lyric. I suppose that since – by Thomas’s account – the work took 18 months to complete, we must regard its nearly 11 minutes duration as being actually compact. Indeed, it is a slight thing. You will seldom spend time more prudently, than in giving this beautiful piece an audience. The more often I listen, the more enchanted I become.
What is the song about? It’s based on Matthew Arnold’s beautiful poem of the same name. The story can be summarized in the following way. A mortal woman has an affair with the ‘King of the Sea,’ but fearing for her mortal soul, flees back to her church at Easter, in order to pray. In folk legend, living with a mermaid or merman cost you your soul – for they were reputed to be creatures without souls. She does not return. The heart-rending part is that it is her children who are calling her to come back to the sea, not the Merman. He has given up, and lives in loneliness.
The song – despite its length - is actually a condensation of the poem, but is relatively faithful to the poem’s wording and completely faithful to its mood.
Cunningly, the song begins simply with the sound of fingers leafing through pages, followed by gentle waves superimposed over a church bell. The instrumentation is artfully woven into a crisp, clean tapestry of soft sound. Continuously, the piece builds to crescendos and then descends again into downy gentle guitar notes that fall like flakes of snow. Each instrument – guitar, cello, violin, flute, timpani, piano, clarinet and triangle – play their part in building the rugged, Celtic feel of this truly amazing work.
The vocals are pleasing in the extreme. There are at least three singers: Thomas himself, an unnamed woman and a child. They each sing exquisitely.
Please listen to this marvelous piece, let it remind you what songs are meant to be.

-Cam Bastedo

- www.godsofmusic.com


Brian Thomas' debut album, Storybook is an enchanting musical story about love, pain, and loss. This Langley singer, songwriter, and TWU grad is being increasingly discovered by audiences around the world. Cam Bastedo of www.godsofmusic.com wrote this regarding one of Storybook's songs, "The Forsaken Merman:" "Without meaning to be fulsome I have simply never encountered a more beautiful folk song. The song is tasteful, textured, and even heart-rending. ... The more often I listen, the more enchanted I become."

Listening to Storybook, I was similarly captivated by the depth of thought and emotion poured into the pieces. Brian masterfully evokes the raw humanity of the celtic-folk genre without sacrificing artistic excellence.

Brian relates that Storybook was born out of his own deep pain and struggle. He says of this album, "I wrote the songs as I was hurting, and as I was healing. The music was as much about me finding a way to express my pain and rise above it as it was about he music itself ... Writing it helped me to keep from getting bogged down by it."

Seldom have I found an album in the folk genre that I recommend so heartily both for its incredible artistry and its sheer beauty.

- Dan Steenburgh

- Mars Hill, TWU newspaper


I suppose the ideal listening conditions for any piece of music would be identical to those which inspired the composer. Since Brian Thomas’ new CD is entitled Prairie Rain, what could be more conducive to receiving the intended impact than listening to it while driving through the Canadian prairies? This is, in fact, exactly what I did this past July, as I made two automotive treks across Canada in my battered Ford, accompanied by Brian Thomas’ newly released CD and – yes – by the occasional shower of rain.
In actuality, Thomas’ work seems to be inspired in roughly equal parts by Ireland and Canada, and at all times by beauty. Delicate, tasteful beauty infuses both the performance and composition of these varied folk pieces. You have the feeling that you meet the composer’s soul in his music and that you are better for the acquaintance.
It is difficult to separate execution from substance, but if one where forced to assess wherein this artist’s chief gift lies I think it would be correct to say it is in his skillful playing. This judgment is high praise to this artist’s playing as the actual compositions themselves are extremely pretty and at times unutterably poignant.
The title track is both lilting and haunting. While I’m no particular lover of the dulcimer it is well played and provides the necessary stippled sound one associates with falling rain. However, the heartrending element is provided here – as it often is throughout this album collection – by the solo recorder. Notes from the recorder, tip toe through this track and much of the album like the airy steps of a magical fairy, treading on the very heart of the listener. The CD contains four songs that are dulcimer based: “Prairie Rain,” “Cool Grey Morning,” “The Wind and Waves” and “On a Bridge in Campbell Valley.” Owing to the dynamics of that instrument each of these is very sprightly sounding, although the last is more subdued that the other three. The primary adjectives that come to mind when listening to these four tracks are lilting, graceful and beautiful.
A second series of songs interspersed throughout the collection are five tracks that are guitar based. “A Hawk Took Flight,” “Iona Sunset,” “Flowing River” and “Happy Am I” are all soft, peaceful, skillfully rendered, excellent numbers. If I have a slight difficulty with the sound dynamics of the dulcimer, then it is quite the reverse when it comes to acoustic guitar - an instrument I play and love. There is no question that Brian Thomas plays acoustic guitar with flare, finesse and delicacy. To my ear the highlight piece of the entire album is “Iona Sunset.” This song’s melody is strongly wonderful and artfully poignant.
“O’Flaherty’s Jig” is a very different track from the other guitar pieces, being lively, fun and energetic. Variety is spice, they say, and I think this track – while being very different from the rest – is a nice compliment to the whole.
The third group of tunes consists in four piano based compositions which are one and all graceful, gentle and beautiful. “Still Waters,” “Lily,” “The Secret Place,” and “The Irish Coast” all breathe a delicate stillness that is captivating. I think that of the four, I particularly like the melancholy reflective nature of “The Irish Coast,” although the rising chord structure of “Lily” very much appeals to me as well.
The penultimate track on the album grabbed me by my Scottish ancestry as if by the neck. I simply love bagpipes and “From the Highest Hill” wonderfully employs that instrument as played by one Chris Morris. By the way, the album features a number of guest performances which are quietly and artfully stitched into the fabric of the whole – a fabric which is varied yet predictable, like a Celtic quilt.
If I regret anything about this CD it is that Thomas sings on only one track. To be clear, I met Thomas’ music through reviewing his remarkable mini-epic track “The Forsaken Merman.” Quite candidly, I’ve never been more impressed with an individual folk song than I was by that particular offering. Frankly, nothing on this album, in my humble estimation, is of the same scope, scale or worth as that particular number. However, that is to compare apples with oranges and nothing here seeks to be epical. The lone vocal piece, “Happy Am I,” breathes tradition. It is perhaps the second strongest melodic effort on the album and it is not scandalous to mention it in the same breath with folk classics such as “Scarborough Fair.”
It only remains to be said that Prairie Rain is eminently worth listening to, even if you aren’t fortunate enough to do so while actually experiencing prairie rain yourself.

- www.brianthomas.ca


Discography

Storybook - 2003
Dancing in the Desert - 2004
Prairie Rain - 2007 - Nominee for Canadian Folk Music Award, Best Instrumentalist, Solo

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Bio

Brian Thomas is a Celtic-folk songwriter from Surrey, British Columbia. Across cultures and
generations, music has been a vehicle for storytelling, and Brian's songs have sought to
re-capture that tradition. His peaceful, melodic music frames touchingly human stories and
lyrics packed with imagery. Brian blends together finger-style guitar, hammered dulcimer,
piano, recorders, and deep, warm vocals to create a refreshingly original sound.

Brian had no formal music training as a child, and only began making music when he first picked up a guitar at the age of 17. In the years since, he has learned to play more than ten other instruments, and has written almost a hundred original songs.

The stories of his third CD release, Prairie Rain, come with very few words spoken. Mostly instrumental, this album conveys stories through the sounds of the ten musical instruments that Brian plays. The hammered dulcimer, a recent addition to his musical pallet, takes center stage in several songs, including the title track.

Brian says, "One of the greatest challenges as a musician is to be able to convey emotions and pictures in music, and doing that with instrumental songs is even more difficult. How do you make a piano sound like a baby waking up, or a guitar sound like a hawk flying, or a dulcimer sound like a rainstorm? That's what I was trying to achieve in this project." The inspiration for much of Prairie Rain's music came from a journey Brian took with his wife to Scotland and Ireland in the summer of 2006, including a five-day stay on the profoundly
spiritual island of Iona. Other songs were written for weddings, both his own and those of friends.

Prairie Rain is the continuation of Brian's story told through music, which began with his first two CDs, Storybook and Dancing in the Desert. Storybook is a personal expression of the deep emotions he experienced when he lost a loved one. Each song is a story, and though the main character changes in each song, they are all representative of the Brian's journey through love, loss, grief, and walking on. One critic stated this regarding one of
Storybook's songs, The Forsaken Merman: "Without meaning to be fulsome I have simply never encountered a more beautiful folk song. The song is tasteful, textured and even
heart-rending. You will seldom spend time more prudently, than in giving this beautiful piece an audience. The more often I listen, the more enchanted I become."

Dancing in the Desert, Brian's second album, is a collection of nine worship songs written while searching for peace in the midst of a time of struggle. Like a majestic, triumphant shout from the top of a mountain, this CD is the uplifting, joyful
chapter of Brian's story.

Brian is happily married, and has two young daughters. He studied music and composition at Trinity Western University. Brian also teaches grade 6, and hopes to one day compose
and conduct a choral symphony.