REVIEW: ‘Communion in the Ashes’ by M. Lockwood Porter: The Album for Its Time and Place

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M. Lockwood Porter is a singer-songwriter originally from Oklahoma whose story is probably is probably unlike most singer-songwriters. His journey took him from Oklahoma to Yale to an inner-city school in San Francisco, where he was a teacher. His journey continues with the new album Communion in the Ashes.

There is an immediate similarity to Elvis Costello. You can hear it in the energy of the title track and in the fact that he can deliver a fairly heavy message while performing such an energetic song. Particularly energetic is the beat provided by Peter Labberton (who also engineered and mixed the album). The lyrics of the chorus hit hard, “When the bridges are all burned and they’re warring over matches, let’s have a new communion in the ashes.” You can also hear a similarity to Costello in the melody of “Waiting for a Sign,” which is reminiscent of “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace Love and Understanding.”

As you move through the album, you realize that Porter delivers a lot of big themes from global warming to “the world repeating history” to greed. He does all of that while his “dystopian gospel band” provides layers of sound ranging from psychedelic to country – especially in the keyboard parts played by Jeff Hashfield. The dystopian aspect is particularly noticeable in “I Will Do No More A’Prayin’.” The piano takes the lead in this song and gives a mournful sound. Some of the lyrics are “We’ll keep planning for the day when we can spread out all the wealth.” The thing is, each line hits like a punch to the gut. It’s hard not to feel the power of this song.

“I Didn’t Know What Love Meant” is a song that grabs the attention. The guitar sound is psychedelic and swirling throughout the song. Meanwhile Hashfield lays down a piano part with some definite honky-tonk influence. As the song progresses, you realize that the overall feel is similar to Chris Robinson Brotherhood. It is upbeat and mellow with layers of sound coming at you from seemingly every direction.

This is an album that defies easy classification. If The Stranger from The Big Lebowski listened to this album, he might well say “Sometimes there’s an album, and it’s the album for its time and place.” And he’d be right. Porter demonstrates that you don’t need excessive volume to be powerful. Communion in the Ashes (Black Mesa Records) was released on March 29 and is available everywhere now. Order your copy here.

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