Seth Bernard has been a prominent presence on the Michigan music scene for close to two decades. He performs as a solo singer-songwriter, with his wife, May Erlewine, in the duo Seth and May, and in a variety of collaborations and configurations with many other Michigan musicians. He and May also founded Earthwork Music, the multifaceted northern Michigan collective of musicians who create music and events focusing on community, social justice, and environmental work.
Bernard has long been a very prolific songwriter and recording artist, and his newest CD, Eggtones for Peace, is his most ambitious one yet. It is, in his words, “the flagship” of a series. He plans to make three more Eggtone recordings, each featuring different American musical styles.
Eggtones for Peace is an innovative concept album, brand new and yet agelessly familiar. It has an enormous sonic palette and all the customary folk and rock instruments, as well as bass clarinet, vocoder, sound effects, samples, carrot (yep, that’s what the liner notes say), and even the sounds of sheep and chickens. Bernard’s lyrics, often non-rhyming free verse, sparkle with internal and off rhymes and draw on spoken word, poetry slam, and rap influences. They are organized into satisfying rhythmic units by the underlying steady pulse of drums and by both standard and surprising folk-rock chord progressions. He also includes, among others, samples of the voices of Noam Chomsky, Grace Lee Boggs, and Coleman Barks reading Rumi.
Yet there is no chaos but instead a sense of coherence. Listening, you feel the unifying vision behind these disparate elements. Bernard is offering Eggtones as utilitarian music that acknowledges our urgent modern predicaments and attempts to address them. “Eggtones for the farmers / who grow the food and tend the land / for small farmers fighting for food freedom and local autonomy / growing food for the community: a necessity more necessary than celebrity / here in this historic twenty-first century.”
There are some very serious and important things being said and sung here, and there are anger, sarcasm, and sadness. But Eggtones is never self-righteous, heavy-handed, or preachy. Bernard’s lyrics are thoughtful, engaging, clever, playful, even funny: “Climate change (I don’t like my entertainment to challenge me).”
Each song is partnered with an organization that relates to its subject: the liner notes include links to the websites of farmers, beekeepers, people who make handmade clothes, midwives, Al-Anon, and organizations that work to eliminate racism. It’s the best kind of cross-marketing: good people making good music for good causes.
Bernard, along with a quintet of crack Michigan musicians, will introduce Eggtones for Peace at the Ark on Saturday, July 2.