When it comes to the music of John Westmoreland, founder of the band that bears his surname, there’s a lot more to what meets the eye or ears. He was born and raised in North Carolina, and with long locks and a patchy beard, he would not look too out of place on stage with Band of Horses or The Black Crowes. But yet, the singer/songwriter of Finnish heritage studied Jazz and Classical Composition at Berklee College of Music before becoming a founding member and lead guitarist for the West-African fusion band Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba (nominated for “Best African Group” in 2014 by AFRIMA, the All Africa Music Awards). On an Emerging Artists Grant from the Durham Arts Council, he travelled to Peru to study shamanic healing music from Amazonia.
And now, here he is in 2019, far from all those genres dropping a dark, mournful ballad that would make the perfect elegy for Leonard Cohen; Popdose proudly presents the premiere of ‘The Sparrow’ from Westmoreland’s debut album, Cast Fire:
Cast Fire is an album that meditates on life, death, and the realms of the soul. “Grief is an overwhelming, deep, and beautiful state,” Westmoreland said in advance of the album’s release last week. “I don’t think we should take for granted that grieving just happens automatically when sorrowful circumstances arise.”
The death of Westmoreland’s grandfather led him down a genealogy path to discover that T-bone Slim, one of America’s greatest leftist poets and outsider bards, was his great granduncle. Slim, born Matti Valentinpoika Huhta in 1880, spent much of his life writing essays and songs for the Industrial Workers of the World union before dying mysteriously in 1942. In the 1960’s, activists in the Civil Rights Movement took renewed interest in Slim’s work. For his next project, Westmoreland plans to revive Slim’s poetry and music for a new generation.
In the meantime, Cast Fire begins to steadily heat up and turn heads. ‘The Sparrow’ video was directed by Cristal Alakoski; the haunting collaboration features dance and choreography by Laura Pietiläinen in co-creation with Sade Risku and Marika Aro. Those breathtaking, otherworldly dresses that glow like apparitions emerging from David Lynch’s Black Lodge, are by Minna Hepburn.