Let It Shine

Brightblack Morning Light's hippie soul.

Their names call to mind Kesey's Merry Pranksters: N. Shineywater, Rabinyah, Benbob, Lolly-Schlitz-Fah, Mariee Sioux. And according to their Web site, they count "herbs" among their friends. With this in mind, it would be easy to poke fun at Brightblack Morning Light if their music didn't spring from such a sincere impulse. And no, it isn't as childlike or hippie-dippy as those names might imply, though the song titles on their eponymous long-player do evoke the sunshine daydreams of yesteryear, i.e., "Friend of Time" and "Star Blanket River Child." The leaders of the collective are "best friends" Nathan "Nabob" Shineywater and Rachael "Rabob" Hughes, aka Rabinyah, who wrote via e-mail (their preferred means of communication between tours).

Nabob is a self-taught musician, while Rabob says she "learned from my grandmother, mostly old-time gospel songs." According to Nabob, "We met as she was playing music in a band in Alabama. I had moved back there from Humboldt County. . . . She came over to my house and began playing in [the band] Rainywood, which was forming around then." The two would later relocate to Northern California. As Nabob explains, "My attraction to the West is the positive and growing movement around organic farming and restoration of native plants."

In 2003, Rainywood became Brightblack, expanding to Brightblack Morning Light the following year. As Nabob puts it, "Brightblack is meant to be a project, and Morning Light is the very first Brightblack long-play recording endeavor. . . . It's a way to participate, it hasn't been a forced endeavor, and Will Oldham [who took the two on their first tour] encouraged our participation, and now Matador [their label] encourages it. We never sent Matador a demo or anything."

As posted on their site, Brightblack Morning Light's manifesto is: "Dedicated to the American Indian Movement & Anyone Who Follows a Path of Resistance Against Babylon System." Under the heading, "Action Is the Antidote to Despair," they offer links to Defenders of Wildlife, the Rainforest Action Network, and Julia Butterfly Hill's Circle of Life. Matter of fact, Nabob has lent his support to the protector of California's old-growth redwoods in the past. He enthuses: "I attended both of the supportive rallies that celebrated each year she lived in the ancient redwood tree named Luna. . . . She was protesting clear-cutting trees and also the use of pesticides in the wild. She gave voice to these issues in a resonant and inspiring way. We eventually met and played Frisbee together."

Clearly, Brightblack Morning Light is about more than music, yet the music itself is meditative and dreamy rather than caustic and preachy. Even the lyrics shy away from calls to activism. Instead, they allude to nature poetically. Nabob sings on "Come Another Rain Down," "All the while, almost home/Dust gets dusty on the way home/Then it's T-I-R-E-D . . . /Come another Rain down, it will bring a Rainbow." Musically, the most obvious reference is the Incredible String Band. And though Brightblack aren't as folk or drone-oriented as the British duo, their love of exotic percussion—conga, tabla, rattle gourd, sizzle seeds—is a clear link between the two. They've also elicited comparisons to the hazy psych-pop of Mazzy Star and are naturally lumped in with the freak-folk of Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and the mellow California sounds of the Skygreen Leopards.

Nabob's passion for the environment, however, begs the question: Is Brightblack Morning Light primarily a band or part of a larger whole? He acknowledges, "I'm not interested in bands generally. Brightblack is a tonal and song endeavor. As life goes on, I hope to embrace the potential of other endeavors. . . . Brightblack Morning Light serves as a pattern of participation with both human and nonhuman input. It's a reminder and a recurring question, 'How was the morning spent?' It could be a testimony to the possibilities of each day, at least for me, to help keep alignment with the Now."

This kind of talk brings us to the dreaded "hippie" tag. Does Nabob mind when it is applied to him? After all, when prodded about his nomadic ways, he claims: "I haven't had my own room in four years. I've been essentially living out of a tent . . . but [it] is also a good way to keep the Be Here Now vibe going!"

Tents? Vibes?

He counters: "I am a protester. I am a discontent witness. Um, I think generalizations are outdated. At this moment, we all either hate the U.S. government or love it. If you are neither, then you are just being lazy."

So, what word would he choose to describe himself?

"Homeless," he says.

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