Joel P West is a name known in some circles in San Diego as the "ringleader" of the indie-orchestral outfit The Tree Ring. He's better known as a solo folk artist, but whatever form he takes, he's certainly got a following. With a handful of releases under his belt and years of playing everything from intimate shows to performances for quiet masses of cross-legged friends to stunning live art shows in museums, West has made a name for himself as a great writer, performer and friend to the local art community.
Synonymous with the nonprofit art collective Sezio, West's eclectic network includes all sorts of filmmakers, artists and musicians of all kinds eager to sign up for whatever project he dreams up. Last year, that included the conception of the Tree Ring, an entourage of flawless, professionally trained musicians who provide stunning ambience and a richer experience to West's collection of songs. Their record, Generous Shadows, included the musical genius of Kelly Bennett (violin), Douglas Welcome (double bass), Darla Hawn (drums, vocals) and Jon Titterington (trumpet, auxilary
Returning to his more minimalist style (yet not without the help of a few strings) Joel put together an end-of-the-year digital EP of sorts called Shoulder Seasons. The solo effort isn't a departure from the Tree Ring as much as it is a personal project to share with the online community for just $5. The fact that he might have passed it off as simply a side-project demonstrates just how unbelievably talented he is. The usual lightness associated with EPs does not apply in this case, because each of the songs holds a certain weight. Shoulder Seasons could stand on its own as a gorgeously crafted collection of journal entries.
It's about that heaviness of the end of the year, of reflection and holidays and thinking about what's ahead. He examines all those things, aspects of his life that completely burden him, that leave him with furrowed brows in a quiet room alone, and those moments which arrest him when in the midst of the wilderness. His relationship with nature is something that permeates throughout this record, on which he sings, "And the color of the sky/Will never be the same," as he reveals that the sight of endless evergreens is enough to break him down with beauty.
There's something native about this connection, this desire to be in nature and to return there, the place where we all came from. Shoulder Seasons reflects the impermanence of the season, something not always so viscerally felt in the permanent sun of San Diego. For those looking to melt into a book by a toasty fire, put on an extra layer and a tea kettle, this might be the perfect soundtrack to your December. Or maybe you can burn it to a CD and gift it to a friend. For only $5, you could probably throw in a bottle of wine and enjoy it together. Download Shoulder Seasons here.