In the spring of 2011 Steve had no intention of releasing a new album any time soon. He had a few of his own songs lying about and a growing interested in particular songs by other writers, but no real vision or energy for a new project in the immediate future.
When, in spring, Kinsey Posen of CBC Winnipeg called to say he was producing a project of Manitoba artists recording the songs of other Manitoba artists, Steve jumped at the chance to record a couple of gems penned by songwriters Gord Johnson and Byron O’Donnell – two of his my favorite songwriters who are regrettably under-sung and under-celebrated.
It was during the recording of that project that Steve started to take inventory of potential songs to record and suddenly realized he had enough for a fairly strong album. His manager was a little taken aback to get a sudden call from Steve saying that he wanted to record, but after a two-day woodshed session with Winnipeg veterans Gilles Fournier (bass), Daniel Roa (drums) and newbie-wunderkind Joey Landreth (electric guitar), all were all convinced of the strength of the material. And so, with a little schedule adjusting and more than a few fundraising calls, they set out in late August to begin work on Steve’s 16th career album.
“Initially,” wrote Steve, “I wanted to call the album Changes. Recent years have been a season of relentless change it seems. The music industry has all but collapsed, hard-copy music formats have given away to digital ones, and traditional marketing schemes have become impotent. And the recession has greatly magnified the worrisome impact of seismic changes already underway.”
“Socially, south of the border the Bush years had given way to the Obama years. The tension between the two eras occasioned an accelerated and alarming degradation of public discourse. People, it seemed, had thoroughly abandoned thoughtful, public debate for vitriol and smug insult. North of “the 40″ we may have had a vestige of decorum left, but among other indicators recent mayoral elections across the country showed a trend otherwise – exposing a people who had forgotten how to blush (Jer. 6:15).”
“Environmentally,” continued Steve, “the changes being demanded of us are titanic while collectively we are perhaps experiencing a failure of nerve to address decisively a crisis we will no doubt pass on to our beloved children. We may yet come to find the shame more crippling than the crisis itself. Heaven forbid.”
Personally, Steve was also feeling himself gettin older. He turned 50, and to commemorate this auspicious occasion, his weakening eyesight forced him to get glasses. At the same time, there are were now two young boys who called him grandpa while his own children had become peers and colleagues. As well, Steve was begining to feel the rigours of the road as repetitive stress injuries forced him to stay home for several months.
“I thought Changes was an appropriate title,” winks Steve.
“But in the early fall, I was testing a few of the new songs on some friends after which one of them suggested I should call the CD Kindness! To her ears, kindness was the clear theme running through the songs and fairly quickly I realized she was right.”
“Kindness… hardly a quaint sentiment… is fundamental to the fabric of authentic, good life. Neither utopian nor naïve, sustainable kindness flows from a deeply internalized knowledge of the kinship of all things – what the saints have always known; that a lived regard for the other, cherishing (even enemies) is the sanest way forward. Indeed, it is a fundamental intuition of my own Christian faith that understands God to be a familial communion; a unity marked by self-donation, mutual othering and ecstatic overflow, which issues forth as creation: you and I, field and stream, songbird and leviathan, soil and sky. It’s all-good. It’s kin(d).”
“When I consider the songs on this recording, and think behind to the ecstasies and agonies that created and chose them, I recognize that the simplest words carry the greatest freight: Love. Kindness. Grace. Beauty. Truth. Goodness. We know these profoundly and painfully in their absence. But when they are present… glory!”
“Obviously this small collection of songs is ill equipped to carry the freight of a word such as kindness, but if, in any way, it serves as a signpost, I am very pleased.”
Be but your own good friend
And be good to the other
Cherish those sisters and brothers
Along the road
And to the earth extend
Every reverence and wonder
Tend to the wounds of your blunders
And honour God who formed our home
-excerpt from Good Friend / Kindness / Steve Bell