Bill Isles: The Shores Of My Hometown

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Bill Isles recently released his fourth CD titled, The Shores of My Hometown. The songs are reflective and warm, inviting the listener to sit down and enjoy. There are no pretensions while relaxing though; Bill just lulls you into a melodic peace.

For about twenty years Bill was not able to make music. As a young man he had rushed toward his dream in the folk group Bill & Rose. After winning the Ashland Folk Festival in 1971 the stars were shining down, but the gleam was short lived. By 23 the realities of life had encroached the artist sending his guitar into a 20 year exile.

Then in 1993 life reminded Bill that he still had a voice. It began with poetry and eventually led him back to that old guitar collecting dust. The fermentation of so much time had sweetened the taste though, and listening to his music became like breathing in the libation of perfection.

Many nights I have caught Bill and his wife Kate playing Sir Ben’s. The inviting feel for their music is like being a part of a special club. With show flakes falling and a warm atmosphere there is no place better. Maybe it has something to do with his house being a stones-throw away, but perhaps it is just the perfect ambiance for peaceful music. The new album captures this brilliantly and gives everyone a chance to achieve something unpretentious and enlightening.

The Shores of My Hometown begins with the coming home song of “Headin’ North". A soft mandolin played by Ted Heinonen caresses Bill’s gentile folk melody. He sings, “Headin’ north to the road where the pavement comes to an end.. Headin’ north again." There is something mythical about the woods that every drives up 35 to reach. For those who have cabins on the Gunflint or deep in the forest there is something special when driving off the beaten path.

“A Good Life" is classically slow with a cello played by Michelle Kinney dancing in the background. Bill sings in the chorus, “It’s a good life, a good life after all" making the song infectiously catchy and softly saturnine. The stand up bass being plucked by Gordy Johnson rounds everything out, giving it a good ole’ sound.

“Matching Baggage" is floor stomping Americana at its best. A country twang from the violin drives the song and gives it a western feel. One might imagine asking your partner to dance to this soft ditty. A tale of two people who meet at a train station over matching luggage, the song sticks. Kate Isles’ voice softly compliments Bill’s raspy, comforting delivery. When they harmonize on the chorus the marriage of soft voices is like gliding down a smooth dirt road. The fiddle on this song, played by April Verch, runs away like a freight train. Also on the track, Jennifer Daniels and Buddy Mondlock join Bill and Kate to embellish the harmonies. It has been favorably received throughout the country and is the song that sells the CD. Playful too, it is Bill Isles’ in a nutshell.

How many times can you purchase an album that makes you feel like you have invited a new friend into your life? How many artists can capture their essence on a recording and share it with everyone around them? That is why this album is so enticing, you feel like Bill is sitting where ever you are listening and playing for you. His depth gives a universal aspect to his music that transcends anyone with feelings. Once you open your ears to his sound, you will be under his spell.

Bill returns to the shores of his hometown on February 16th playing at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior at 8pm.