Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be shining our light on an act that’s rather peculiar, the collaboration of Billie Woods and Deborah Schmidt: Suite Journey. There’s an immense amount of creative energy and talent between the two, and their chemistry is only strengthened by a creative partnership that clearly extends into a deeply personal friendship. Their latest studio endeavor, ‘TIBET Land of My Tears,’ is a remarkably eccentric collection of songs inspired by the duo’s travels in Nepal and Tibet.
Throughout their journey, both Woods and Schmidt discovered a deep love and understanding of Tibetan culture, something that fostered a desire to make a difference in the only way they know how: through music. 50% of all sales of both the album and its corresponding merchandise are being donated to organizations that help preserve and support Tibetans in their country. It’s a labor of love, one that utilizes a genre-defying palette of sound to convey its passion. Let’s get into it.
Suite Journey describes ‘TIBET Land of My Tears’ as an ‘eclectic fusion of world music: from classical to Celtic to Native American.’ Each track is combined with a liner note-like story as to how the two came about the song. The easy-going, intensely enjoyable ‘Qomolangma (Everest)’ opens up the record with defiant prowess, exhibiting incredible talent between the two. Wood’s flute lead is accentuated beautifully by Schmidt’s classical guitar with a very sparse, but effective acoustic percussion backing. The song feels spiritual in nature, calling upon a variety of genres to evoke a hauntingly beautiful and uplifting soundscape.
‘Yak Butter Blues,’ the second track in the collection, drastically shifts direction from the opening tune, showcasing an entirely new level of instrumental intrigue on behalf of Suite Journey. The two women harmonize with one another, with Woods providing some incredible lead vocals. It’s a jazzy tune, something that clarinetist Michael Austin truly brings to life. Of the myriad of factors that make ‘TIBET Land of My Tears’ a wonderful experience, the compositional variety is likely the most important. As soon as you hit the next track, ‘Terdan Nunnery,’ you’re revisited by that breathtaking flute. I’d go as far to argue that ‘Nunnery’ is one of the best songs on the album, embodying just about everything that makes Suite Journey so superb.
“The Tibetan way of life [is] harsh, yet simple and so beautiful,” Suite Journey pens on their website. The title track exudes the duo’s feelings about the country, as Woods croons over a remarkable piano piece accented by a fretless bass piece. The poignant piece is the emotional focal point of the experience, and everything around it seems to be continually energized by its presence. As is the case with ‘Trekking,’ the following track that returns to the pastures of that mesmerizing flute.
‘INS [Inion Ni Scannlain]’ was the most special moment of my personal endeavor through Suite Journey’s new album. When I first listened to it, I was donning noise-cancelling, studio-grade headphones while gazing out a fast moving train window. The instrumentation has so much depth to it, so much meaning and poise. Even though I was just watching the Illinois countryside, I felt a sense of unique wonder and harmony. Considering the song was actually written about that feeling atop the Himalayas, I’d say Suite Journey captured that feeling in a bottle on this track.
‘Will There Really Be a Morning?’ is a song that feels more like a lullaby than anything, once again proving that while Suite Journey’s strongest pursuits may be their introspective instrumentals, the vocal-laden tracks are intensely memorable as well. ‘Unknown Blessings’ is one of the best of those tracks, and its the first that Schmidt takes the vocal reins on. This track is nothing short of exceptional.
Harp is one of the most underrated instruments. It’s such a wonderful instrument and it never gets its fair share of use. Fortunately, Woods takes to the instrument on ‘SamTen’ to add the only factor that could make Schmidt’s flute even more beautiful. The combination of two and a guest cellist creates magic. ‘The Water Is Wide’ follows it up, the first duet on the album. I love hearing the duo share equal presence; they both possess such exciting voices and they harmonize fantastically.
‘Windhorse’ is a fine instrumental to finish out the style’s presence on the record, one that continues to highlight the importance of the flute/classical guitar dance. Then, ‘Peace Peace Peace’ a hymn-like finale that sounds exactly as you’d expect, closes it all out. It’s a soft and tranquil ending that sounds like something the late George Harrison would have written.
Suite Journey is one of the most compelling and fascinating duos I’ve ever seen in independent music. They’re absolutely special, and so worth your time. Go listen to the album on their website!