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Album Review

The phrase old soul refers to someone whose perspective is imbued with wisdom (and, sometimes, an accompanying weariness) that transcends years. This is only the second offering from Brooklyn folk-rockers Burlap to Cashmere (a dozen-plus years separates it from the band's critically acclaimed, Dove Award-winning 1998 debut, Anybody Out There), but frontman Steven Delopoulos does indeed sound like an old soul. The 11 songs he and his band have crafted here paint impressionistic lyrical pictures of love and hope, contrasted with the inevitable realities of loss and death.

"It's a very shadowy record," Delopoulos admits. "There's sort of a redemption at the end. But [the album] talks about, I would say, the different layers of life, the good times and the bad times all at once in one package with a bow on it."

Speaking of layers, the album has as many musical ones as it has lyrical. Fans of Burlap to Cashmere's first effort will instantly recognize the sound, albeit in a more stripped-down acoustic sense. And that means the group doesn't sound like much of anything else out there today, save perhaps Mumford & Sons, evoking instead the ethereal folk offerings of the late '60s and early '70s, music from the likes of some other well-known old souls: Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Harry Chapin and Cat Stevens.

The result feels meditative and poetic, wise and vibrant all at once. And when it becomes difficult to decipher exactly what's being sung about, well, you end up concluding that you're just not smart enough to figure it all out yet.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Burlap to Cashmere's first album gave voice to a Christian faith, earning the band a large following among CCM fans. (Delopoulos grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church.) This time, hints at that faith are also frequent, but perhaps more subtle.

Album closer "The Other Country" (likely an allusion to Hebrews 11:16) poignantly chronicles how the hope of heaven allows us to transcend pain and fear. "Do not be afraid of this earthly city/Do not be afraid when the Pharaoh's nigh/Draw near, the Lamb's awaiting/ … I can see the other country/I see the other side." The song also talks of "the risen man" who "heals the weight of time" and who "heals the poisoned mind." And it echoes Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/ … You will rescue me/ … I was blind/But now I see."

"Build a Wall" contrasts the dark wickedness of our age (describing a cocaine addict who's taken advantage of by a whiskey-drinking spiritual counterfeit) with those who labor to protect the spiritually vulnerable: "There's an echo of a call/And through the violent bloody night/Nehemiah builds the wall." Likewise, "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere" echoes Jesus' teaching when it says, "Send blessings to your critics and be careful with the least of these/Release the prisoners free."

The bluesy "Seasons" assures a desperate man ("Wheels don't work, car won't drive/Nowhere to go/Nowhere to hide/One naked man/One naked scheme/Faded into a bad, bad dream") that life's cycles will eventually yield to God's call home ("Seasons come and go/Through hills and valleys/Someone calls my name/Opens up the sky/takes me off my train"). "Orchestrated Love Song" explores the intertwined threads of love, pain, family and growth as it uses a ship on the sea metaphor to describe the perseverance, beauty and mystery of lasting love ("You know I love you/ … And it's true what they say about the ocean/It's mysterious and it's dark/It'll keep us together").

"Live in a Van" romanticizes the journey of working musicians who give themselves equally to their calling and to their families ("Walk down the aisle/She is my heart/ … Death do us part/'Cause I know you, you understand/Driving through the night/To that old promise land"). It references Catholic contemplative Thomas Merton as it describes the band's musical calling in spiritual terms ("There's a sacred trust that is sealing up my sound/And the dream of Thomas Merton as I'm standing on the ground"). "Hey Man" praises the power of music and seeks a spiritual reawakening.

Objectionable Content

Nothing overt.

Summary Advisory

In a 2009 interview with The Ladder (described as "the official blog of the Greek Orthodox Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries"), Steven Delopoulos was asked about what he would tell young adherents who wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts.

"Go into it for the ministry," he replied. "Ask yourself, Why are you alive? Why are you here? The only way is to close your eyes and quiet your mind. Think to yourself, If I were to die tomorrow, if I had 20 more days to live, what would I do with that time? What kind of art would I make? What would I say? If the essence is pure, if you have the right motivation, you're going to watch God intervene and things are going to just click. Because it's not about your personal castle you want to build on earth, and you're actually listening to what God is telling you to do. Ministry can mean 100,000 different things because everyone's talents are different. I'm part of the kingdom and I'm doing something that's part of my calling."

Delopoulous' faithfulness to that calling (along with the rest of the band, for that matter) is still more than evident these many years later.

A postscript: I was unable to easily categorize the oblique "Tonight" as either positive or objectionable, but it's still worth taking note of. It seems to be about an old man's reflections on love and life and eternity as he nears his earthly end. "You look so bright/And your smile returns a story," he muses. "Yes, tonight, tonight/Your eyes transcend the glory/Just before my grave, Selah/ … It's a grave to sin afar/Rehearsed with wine and rum/But tonight, tonight/I leave this town as I shed my flesh desires."

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July 19, 2011

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Adam R. Holz

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