Oliver Schroer - Hymns And Hers
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Oliver Schroer
Hymns And Hers
Borealis Records, Canada

In his 14 years of recording, violinist Oliver Schroer crossed many genres and walked many paths, from the humor and scope of his Stewed Tomatoes band to the austere beauty of his sound walk along the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. Each step of this career was a strange adventure, driven by the curiosity of the great fiddler, composer and explorer that he was.

Hymns And Hers is built on tricky turf. On a casual listen, you might be inclined to find it pompous, overwrought or simplistic. You listen casually at your own peril and loss. These twelve hymns are complex and deeply layered odes to both ancient folk and classical traditions, but display the modern sensibility that Schroer always brought to his work as both writer and performer. "A Song for All Seasons (the Prayerful Hymn)" starts the album off with a plaintive, slightly scratchy solo violin played in double stops, setting up a simple melody line. As each round passes, a little more is added; a bottom string, an extra stop; then a guitar and voices offer a more mournful counterpoint. You are more than three minutes into it before you realize it has attained a small chorale, underpinned by electric guitar, then even more voices as it approaches an almost heartbreaking finale.

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The beauty of "A Song for All Seasons," and so many others on the recording, is that it never strays from the simple melodic line that is set up in the first bars. Schroer wrote these works as a testament to the simplicity of plainsong, church hymns and folk song. As in a religious ceremony, they build emotion, be it passion, joy, sorrow or ecstasy. They draw the listener into it, to share the experience of the excellent performers who created this recording with the fiddler; to join the rite.

Listen
In his notes about the recording, Schroer says that some of these pieces "did not feel like Hymns. But what were they?" he asked. "The tunes were the Hers." While there are up tempo and sprightly 'Hers' like "The Morning Star," or the more pop-like "The Colour of Snow" and "Song of the Dispossessed," that he may have felt stood apart, they all share the same search for community and simplicity as those he acknowledges as his 'Hymns.'

Schroer created his final masterwork in this recording, one that brought together many of his musical passions and musician friends in a personal elegy. More importantly, it is a celebration of his life and the lives of all who will listen. - Cliff Furnald

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