The debut from L.A.-based American singer-songwriter-guitarist Greg Felden presents grand, lofty, and provocative ideals but is rooted in genuine heartfelt songs. On "Made of Strings," the transplanted Oregon native is accompanied by a first rate group of musicians including keyboardist Jerry Borger, guitarist Brian Whelan, pedal steel ace Rich Hinman and harmonica player Brian Wright.
The music ranges from folk-oriented singer-songwriter fare to pulsating country-influenced rock, all delivered by Felden's commanding, solid vocals. This is an existential album of sorts, probing the big questions of what it means to be human and how we make sense of things.
That may seem like an overly idealistic way to begin for a debut, but the project is dedicated to Samantha Morris, Felden's girlfriend who was fighting cancer during the recording and passed away shortly thereafter. The songs were all written beforehand, and Samantha was present during the recording process. The song, which has since become "her song," "Take You Back Home," released as a single last June was originally inspired, not directly by Samantha's situation, but by end-of-the-world scenarios and mass tragedies. It's a metaphor for what life throws at us and how we respond.
His attempt to repair things appears again in the rocking, guitar-organ driven "Tell Me What's Broken." That leads into the hymn-like title track. Here they band develops a soundscape at the beginning of the tune, meant to place the song against the background of the universe. The album ends with "Ghosts" with the sparsest musical backing of just guitar and organ, it's another introspective piece that begins by asking what he'd find in that box filled with letters and postcards from days gone by. As it unfolds, the theme of the album comes forth in questioning not only our individual pasts, but our collective pasts and how we fit or how we should have fit.
While these thoughts and themes are indeed are heavy, the music is mostly light or jangly, all made eminently listenable by Felden's confident and melodic vocals.