Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Bear Medicine is an antidote to its origin

Kim Smith, left, Joshua Wright, Severn Edmonson and Seth Murphy are Bear Medicine. The Lexington-based group has released its debut full-length album.
Kim Smith, left, Joshua Wright, Severn Edmonson and Seth Murphy are Bear Medicine. The Lexington-based group has released its debut full-length album. rcopley@herald-leader.com

Bear Medicine

(Performing with Diego Garcia) 7:30 p.m. Nov.15, Singletary Center for the Arts. $26. (859) 257-4929. Scfatickets.com.

Take in the spacious, retro-charged folk reflection Bear Medicine conjures on its new The Moon Has Been All My Life album and you probably wouldn't guess what the Lexington band's very different beginnings were like.

"We started playing together in more of a rock 'n' roll and pop context," says bassist and cellist Seth Murphy. "It was loud, aggressive music, very much the opposite of Bear Medicine. We never got around to calling it (the trio) a name. We had gotten together four or five times and were actively pursuing putting something together. But it fell apart shortly after that."

From there, Paducah native Murphy along with guitarist, vocalist and songsmith Joshua Wright and drummer, vocalist Severn Edmundson, both from the Frankfort area, went their ways and reexamined their songwriting from a more acoustic perspective.

"We took a break for a few years and didn't really communicate that much," Murphy says. "Then Josh got a little more involved with songwriting and brought us back together to look at some of these songs as well as some of the older ones in a new way that we thought we should incorporate. We wanted to do something different."

That yielded the official moniker of Bear Medicine and initial indie EP disc. But there was one other key change to come with the addition of flutist, keyboardist and vocalist Kim Smith, an Iowa native who studied and performed in Australia before relocating to Lexington.

"The first EP was just the guys — Josh, Seth and I," Murphy says. "Kim joined just through chance. We happened to be hanging out with some friends one day playing music. She was there and picked up her flute. She played along and it just fit. So we were really glad we could re-arrange the songs again to incorporate her singing and flute playing."

That led to the band's full-quartet sound and the stark, subtly psychedelic folk songs that make up The Moon Has Been All My Life. Several of the record's 10 tunes possess a decidedly British feel. You can hear echoes of Nick Drake and early Fairport Convention within songs like Guillotine Alley and Blood in Common while Sevens and the album's opening instrumental Red Bird steer closer to vintage folk-pop influences out of California. Lexington music vet Otto Helmuth co-produced the record with the band.

"The recording process was very enjoyable," Murphy says. "Being in the studio with Otto was just a really comfortable environment. It was a good time of year to be in the studio, too. It was about this time last year that we made the record. We would get up early, make a big batch of coffee and start playing these songs."

The months ahead will be devoted to finding an audience for The Moon Has Been All My Life and, to a larger degree, Bear Medicine itself. Helping with that will be a high profile opening set for Saturday's Diego Garcia performance at the Singletary Center for the Arts (See story, page 8). But Murphy said such a search will also involve out-of-town gigs in Knoxville, Louisville and Cincinnati.

"We want to figure out where our music really fits," Murphy says. "Are we more of a listening band good for a quiet theater show like what we're doing with the Singletary Center, or are we something that fits with this new Americana club scene that's happening? So we're doing a little bit of traveling to some different places and seeing how different audiences react to all that. We want to see what works best for our fans and what works best for the band."

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